Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen – Ulster Hall, Belfast
With the festival circuit schedule complete, it’s a big year ahead for music – but an even bigger one for Catfish and the Bottlemen. With upcoming headline spots for Citadel Festival, Indiependence and TRNSMT, in between slots at the likes of Sziget, Lollapalooza, Kendal Calling, Benicassim and literally anywhere with a stage, our favourite indie rock boys will surely be kept busy – but not too busy to pay us lil a visit. After sold out shows across the UK last week, Catfish and the Bottlemen’s next stop was Belfast, with a sold out Ulster Hall waiting eagerly for their turn to catch a glimpse of the band that never stops.
Touring fresh off the back of their first release for a couple of years with singles ‘Longshot’ then ‘Fluctuate’, the four boys from Wales launched themselves into 2019 with purpose. With their third studio album The Balance due for release on 26th April this year, their dedicated fanbase have already devoured the two brief snippets they have of the album, shouting back every single lyric at Catfish shows throughout 2018 – before both songs were even released.
The dedication of the band’s fanbase is no surprise, as dedicated fans are borne from dedicated bands and we see this tenfold with Catfish and the Bottlemen. While it may seem that this mysterious band simply bounced into the limelight with ease upon the release of their first three singles in 2013 (‘Homesick, ‘Rango’ and ‘Pacifier’), Van McCann, Johnny Bond, Robert “Bob” Hall and Benji Blakeway have dedicated the past decade to getting the name of Catfish and the Bottlemen out there.
Powered by the simplistic attitude of “We’re straightforward. We don’t care if people don’t like it”, Catfish and the Bottlemen have projected themselves into the charts and hearts of music lovers alike. In an age where music has strayed from the simple indie rock sound, Catfish remain a refreshingly solid pillar of music made up of good old fashioned lyrics, guitars and drums (and skinny jeans – we love that part too). Basing it off his own experience, frontman McCann explains ‘I can’t relate to stuff in the charts; if you’re gonna sing about sex, sing about not having it’. And so we have Catfish’s token sound: relatable lyrics brought to life through a solid, simple sound by genuine, talented musicians (in skinny jeans) – what more could you want?
It’s a good thing those fans mentioned above are dedicated to the Catfish cause, as with the promises of ‘special guests’ on the tickets and the doors opening at 7, an empty stage until our headliners stepped on was certainly unexpected. Either way, the sold out crowd were in high spirits. As the stage techs shuffled across the stage, the sounds of Dean Martin – ‘Aint that a Kick in the Head’ grew curiously louder until it blared, the crowd singing along with confusion until we were suddenly plunged into darkness.
The night grew only more bizarre from there. The crowd remained in darkness as someone who can only be compared to that of a WWE announcer silenced the room, yelling ‘LAAADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IT’S TIIIIME’ over the speaker. Suddenly a pool of red, flashing flights spilled over the crowd as our WWE announcer sang his own rendition of The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’. The whole room was blinded as we tried to understand what exactly was going on, at which point our headliners strolled on stage and casually adjusted themselves like we hadn’t just been subjected to some weird hypnosis by an unidentifiable announcer on his break from the wrestling.
And so began a set fit to burst with songs, the four lads diving straight in with one of their latest singles ‘Longshot’ off the upcoming album. The band’s confidence in opening a set with a song released a mere month prior, together with the crowd’s explosive reception to it is testament to where Catfish and the Bottlemen have got to over the past few years.
Right from the first beat the crowd were completely hooked, shouting back every word as the band ploughed through hit after hit including ‘Kathleen’, ‘Soundcheck’ and ‘Pacifer’. With barely a minute for a breath nevermind a tactical toilet break, it was evident our headliners were here to deliver one thing and one thing only – and that was the music. There was no gimmicks, there was no bantering between them, with only yells of encouragement from McCann like ‘COME ON BELFAST’ briefly replacing song lyrics as instrumentals exploded around the room.
And that was all the crowd needed. The care-free attitude the band have become so known for poured from the front of the Hall, McCann moodily dragging his mic stand, low to the ground, across the stage as his voice lead each song. For a band that narrows themselves down to being ‘straightforward’, they not only know how to put on a show, but McCann’s voice can surely command a room. The smooth lyrics with his added rough edge reverberated around the venue, the guitars and drums thrashing and shaking the whole crowd to their core. The set went beyond song after song and instead provided explosive anthems, all running into one as the crowd held their focus to the very last second.
Beers flew across the room and people clambered on top of each other’s shoulders as the band played fan favourites such as ‘Twice’, ‘Fallout’ and ‘Business’. So keen to provide the music in place of chat or communication, the crowd were plunged into darkness as the band finished playing ‘Outside’ and left the stage. Such is the band’s aloofness a fake goodbye pre-encore wasn’t even given, which only riled the crowd up more with shouts of ‘Olay!’ to get them back.
Soon enough our frontman returned alone armed only with an acoustic guitar, starting off a version of ‘Hourglass’ that he left primarily to the crowd to lead and who unsurprisingly, sang every single word. The rest of the band joined him on stage to play out a bouncing crowd with ‘Fluctuate’ and ‘Severed’, the lights descending as the final beat ended.
The crowd still buzzed as they turned to gather their things, only for a surprise announcement from McCann to emerge from the darkness with ‘Belfast, this is called Cocoon – TAKE OVER!’. The startled crowd tumbled over each other as they turned their attention back to the stage for the sneaky encore within an encore. The band brought the room from 0 to 100 in a about 0.01 seconds, only to gently end the song with the crowd singing the final words. It was the perfect finish to a surprise bonus ending, the crowd returning to gather their things and depart with the buzz still hanging in the air.
…Until, McCann’s voice again echoed round the room. By this point some people had actually left, others wondered if they were hallucinating. It was a sneaky encore within an encore within an encore, and the crowd couldn’t believe their bloody luck. Closing the set (for real this time, swear), the band polished off the night with ‘Tyrants’, signing off with ‘Belfast, it has been an absolute pleasure.’
With this, the now exhausted crowd finally left the venue, partly delirious and wondering if they had dreamt the Russian doll encore they had just received. The excitement that lingered long after the band had gone was testament to how successful a night it had been. Even in the absence of expected support, there were absolutely no negatives that could be given about the night. In an age where music has become increasingly technical, computerised and canned, Catfish have ploughed through unharmed, unphased and not faltering from their simple sound – and that’s what gets them places, that’s what gets them crowds like that and that’s what will continue to take them to stages around the world for years to come. Expect triple encores, folks – you’ve been warned.