Published on July 1st, 2011 | by Éilish Burke0
Gig Review – The Walls, The Grand Social Thursday 30th June
To paraphrase the Coen brothers; this ain’t no country for middle-aged musicians. Unless you’re insanely successful (and irritating) like Bono or Sting, continuing to make music into your forties like, you know, as a career, is a tough game. Most bands form in secondary school or college, record an EP or two and maybe scrape together enough cash to make a full-length album. A tour and second album might follow depending on response to the first. But, in time, most musicians end up quitting as the mundane necessity of putting food on the table kicks in. Poverty is not a hot look when you hit your late thirties, especially when compared to your contemporaries and original fans, those who went down the straight and narrow, got the profession, bought the suit, and are now furnishing their second homes with Danish-designed sofas.
There are a few who keep at it though. In their forties now, Steve and Joe Wall are two brothers who have been making music together since the late ’80s. Their original band The Stunning were hugely popular in Ireland. Their debut album Paradise in the Picturehouse spent 5 weeks at No.1, breaking records at the time for a debut by an Irish act. It’s an album which soundtracked part of my childhood. I would listen to it on my elder sister’s Walkman when she came home on weekend visits from college in NUI Galway. This history is something the brothers bear somewhat uncomfortably. They tour as both The Stunning and The Walls now, though you get the impression the only reason they do Stunning gigs is to pay the bills. Tonight in the Grand Social we’re seeing them as The Walls, the outfit they formed in 1998 with two other band members. But instead of the full line-up, tonight it’s just Steve and Joe.
The tented upstairs room in the Grand Social holds an almost full house, though with tables and seating up front it’s a relaxed atmosphere. The crowd is a 50:50 mix of black-linen-blazer-wearing fans in their late 30s/early 40s – old fans and friends of the band, and those young enough to have discovered them in the past decade, or are here to see support band Bipolar Empire. The press release promised an innovative stage show and it comes in the form of a nifty interactive video backdrop. Though the brothers are gigging as a twosome, some of the songs require the sound of a full band so they have pre-recorded footage of the other Walls band members (on drums, keys and brass) and play along, with added pithy/cringey commentary to boot. Essentially, they’re playing to a backing track which in most live music situations is a cop-out, but this HD video is done with sufficient artistry and used sparingly enough to be successful and avoid gimickry. Though I wonder how long they’ll be able to stand to make the same old tired comments to the the ‘virtual’ bandmates before it drives them nuts. For the most part, the backdrop is projected with hypnotically beautiful footage of imploding fireworks, moving waters and buildings demolished in reverse.
Perhaps in an effort to ‘just get it over with’ the pair kick off the set with their biggest hit as The Walls to date, the single ‘To The Bright and Shining Sun’. You know, the one with the unmistakable guitar harmony. From the AIB ad. Overcoming some initial sound issues they move onto fresher material and play new single ‘Bird in a Cage’ (which gets a second airing later in the encore). Telling the tale of Steve and Joe’s move from Dublin city to rural Galway as teenagers it’s a traditional enough song with a big choral hook. But it isn’t my favourite of their new material – that was ‘All a Blur’, a song which shows lyrical flare and old-fashioned talent for storytelling through song.
she was hanging on tight to a microphone
in a karaoke bar on the south side of the town
I wasn’t in the mood to sing a song
though I’d sometimes hum along
she was cute and I was happy just to watch her.
outside the storm is blowing wild
while we were singing Are you Lonesome Tonight
There’s no doubting their talent as live musicians. They’ve been playing together so long now that it’s a very tight sound. Steve heads up the vocals on the majority of songs while, in addition to bass, Joe tinkers with the pedals, keys and drum machines that add a fresher, more electronic edge to their sound. They do a good interpretation of Thin Lizzy’s Old Town and dutifully please the crowd by bookending the show with another big hit, this time from the Stunning canon, Brewing Up a Storm.
The Walls are playing some further dates in Galway, Dublin and Belfast – for more info visit their website here.
The single Bird in a Cage can be downloaded for free at their Bandcamp page.
A new Walls album is due out this autumn.