The Murder Capital
London Electric Ballroom
21st February 2020
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James McGovern, charismatic frontman with rising Dublin guitar heroes The Murder Capital, closes his eyes and sways to the beat, clearly as spellbound by the hypnotic instrumental break as the audience is at tonight’s sold out show.
And then, in open defiance of the venue’s health and safety rules, while the band’s music explodes around him, James produces a cigarette, lifts it to his lips and sucks deeply, before exhaling a swirling cloud of smoke. At this moment, as the front rows sniff a whiff of illicit tobacco, he displays an almost Oasis-like swagger, staring us out, as if to say: F*** me, tonight’s a bit special.
And it is.
The Murder Capital prowl back and forth and side to side, across the stage, energised by a gang-sharp unity of purpose; their shirts are uniformly tucked in, ready for action. The five-piece format works brilliantly, as Cathal Roper’s and Damien Tuit’s guitars create alternately exquisite and ferocious layers of sound, which in turn are underpinned by bassist Gabriel Blake’s mighty four-string rumble and Diarmuid Brennan’s primal drum attack.
James himself is a revelation. His vocals on the band’s debut album, When I Have Fears, sounded at times a little inhibited, separate, but tonight his performance is unselfconscious and driven by raw emotion. During a stunning Slow Dance II, he approaches Gabriel slowly, almost seductively, and holds him while he plays; it’s not the only time during tonight’s show that the singer appears close to tears.
By now we’ve banished any thoughts about The Murder Capital being a morose modern take on the long-mac branch of post-punk. This music is often euphoric and invites comparison with the visceral sensuality of Savages, a richly layered sonic feast, enhanced tonight by strategically placed waves of freeform howls and whooshes, wrung by Damien from his guitar, most notably during an impassioned Love, Love, Love, and the gripping push-pull of Green & Blue, adding an experimental side to the band’s edge of chaos ethos.
However, the band are equally able to turn the volume down and reduce an ecstatic crowd to awed pin-drop silence. During one quiet interlude tonight, they successfully urge everyone in the venue to listen from a sitting position on the floor, a moment that lasts for a full minute, before the music surges back in – prompting the amused audience to collectively spring to its feet. Normal moshpit service is resumed.
Perhaps inevitably, a triumphant, full-tilt finale of Don’t Cling To Life ends with James being lifted above the heads of the adoring crowd. When he eventually climbs back onstage, he hugs his comrade Cathal warmly, and once again the singer’s eyes are visibly moist.
As the final note of the Murder Capital’s epic music fades away, the audience erupts into cheers, and strangers embrace in grinning confirmation that tonight has indeed been a bit special. All you need is love, love, love.