At Primavera, Fontaines D.C. Proved They’ve Become True Rockstars
If you read anything online about Primavera 2022, you would’ve mostly found disgruntled responses from festivalgoers after the festival’s surprisingly rocky start — the glorious return of Pavement being a big exception. The festival promised to make improvements for the rest of the weekend, and the second day did feel a little better even if basic functional things — again, the lack of access to water outside the slammed bar lines — remain difficult. But, once more, the lineup made up for a lot of that.
At certain points on Thursday, it felt like there was one main set happening and most of the crowd was jammed in at that performance. Last night was different, with some of the usual brutal overlaps anyone who’s been to a festival as strongly booked as Primavera would be used to. Early in the evening there was Weyes Blood, and as the night went on you had Wet Leg, Shellac, Little Simz, Earl Sweatshirt, Parquet Courts, and a crowd-pleasing headliner set from Beck. (I was mostly camped out at the main stage area for the night myself.) The National played a characteristically great set, leaning on the key songs from the last several albums while also featuring two exciting new songs — “Tropical Morning News” really goes — and closing the set with “About Today.” (I’m one of the National fans of the mind that this is the one true way for them to close an epic show over “Vanderlyle.”) Right after that were back-to-back euphoric late-night sets from Caribou (standing in for the Strokes) and Jamie xx. But the main stage performance that really stuck with me was one that happened a little earlier in the evening.
Because Primavera goes all night, you sometimes have this funny thing where what would be a major headlining set in the mid/late evening at an American festival feels like one of the opening performances of the night. On Friday, that was Fontaines D.C. The fact that it was still light out did nothing to diminish the fact that, a few years into their career, the Irish quintet has steadily developed the ability to command a massive stage.
The first time I saw Fontaines D.C., they were still simply called the Fontaines and they were playing to maybe 100 people at a club in Dublin, during a SXSW-esque conference showcasing emerging Irish acts. They were known around town, but hadn’t really gotten any notice outside Ireland and the UK quite yet. It was raw and impressive, but they were even better a year later at Iceland Airwaves, prompting us to name them a Band To Watch. That was the last time I saw them play overseas. A lot has changed.
If you’ve been reading this site the last few years, you already know Fontaines D.C. have had one of the more shocking trajectories in rock music in recent times. Even as people like to talk about the “British and Irish post-punk wave” or whatever, Fontaines have eclipsed those origins. In America, they’re still playing big clubs. Over here, they have become rockstars in the truest sense, in a way we rarely see anymore.
After walking out to Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” Fontaines began their set with the Skinty Fia opener “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” an atmospheric track that became noisier live, gradually building to a sort of triumphant squall. They each have their distinctive looks now: Grian Chatten recalling Britpop frontmen with his track clothes, guitarist Conor Curley a ’60s/’70s rocker, guitarist Carlos O’Connell now rocking a very ’90s pinkish red hair, bassist Conor Deegan sort of the quiet alchemist hanging in the back, drummer Tom Coll covered in tattoos and thrashing at the kit. Even as different characters, they still look like a gang, a true band.
From “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” they roared through a set balancing material from their three albums. After kicking in with “A Lucid Dream” and “Sha Sha Sha,” “I Don’t Belong,” “Televised Mind,” “Nabokov,” and “Big Shot” provided a tumultuous and moody middle section before a take-no-prisoners run at the end. There, the band paired new instant classics (“I Love You,” “Jackie Down The Line”) with the old heavy-hitters (“Too Real,” “A Hero’s Death,” “Boys In The Better Land”). It was furious, visceral — the work of a band that knows how to get an audience right in the palm of their hand.
Back in 2017, Fontaines D.C. had a swagger about them. An affected cool, the “I’m gonna be big!” snarl. It felt defiant and scrappy at the time. Now, they’ve become bigger than, perhaps, anyone involved would’ve expected. During their American tour, a friend of a friend said Chatten carried himself like a hardcore frontman; to me, his clothes aren’t the only thing that had reminded me of certain famous Britpop vocalists. Whatever it is, the band has power and presence unlike many of the ascendant rock acts I’ve covered in my time as a journalist. Each time Chatten wordlessly yelled at the crowd and raised his arms in a big “Come on!” gesture, they responded; when he dryly quipped that all their excitement must be about the British Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, boos rumbled out from under Irish flags waving in the air.
When you get to this level, this fast, there’s bound to be some divisiveness. Maybe Fontaines’ particular vibe hasn’t swayed you thus far, and I don’t know that seeing a set like last night’s would convince you otherwise. But for those of us who have been along for the ride, it was stunning to witness. As much as I loved those early Fontaines performances, I wouldn’t have imagined this. Now, it boggles my mind to consider where they could go from here.