Home Gigs Gig Review : The Answer ‘SUNDOWNERS’ UK and European Tour 2023 Limelight 2, Belfast

Gig Review : The Answer ‘SUNDOWNERS’ UK and European Tour 2023 Limelight 2, Belfast

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Review by Manny Manson for MPM

I’m just back from a quick trip across the Irish Sea, back to my homeland of Norn Iron, to see that my mammy is safe and well, and to drop in on my Aunty, her sister, to say hello and get a quick catch up, it’s been nearly 7yrs since my last visit after all. It would also be remiss of me not to get to a couple of venues that I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting before.

Being hosted by the gaffer of Metal Planet Music it was obvious it was going to be a bus man’s holiday so to speak, and why the hell not. After an early start, a drive to Birmingham to catch our flight, we are soon in Belfast. A quick trip round Stormont and then the Titanic quarter, our feet not touching the ground since we arrived, I find myself stood in a queue outside Belfast’s infamous Limelight venue. Tonight, County Down’s very own ‘The ANSWER’ have sold out the Limelight2, the smaller of the Limelight ‘hall’s’ but equally as impressive.

The guys on the door are superb, the craic is flying back and forth, even though I’m local through birth, my distinctly English accent is frustrating as I’d love to fit in with accent and all. Hey ho, I guess having a jet set younger life can have its drawbacks. I’ll just say that no one made any comment and carried on as if I were a local, probably as I was with regular and top N.I. photographer, Darren McVeigh.

The venue quickly filled up, but I managed to grab a spot behind the sound board, the view is slightly restricted by a stanchion to the left and a raised viewing section to the right, but I’ve been in worse, Rough Trade in Nottingham springs to mind. The hall is drenched in red light, something that a lot of venues seem to be doing today, well that and the hateful neon blue. Old rock tunes play over the house PA bringing back happy memories for plenty; I’m sure. The venue has seen a plethora of bands tread its boards over the years, and I’m sure there are lots more lined up after tonight.

In the U.K. the tour had the Ollie Brown & The Dead Collective band as support, but unfortunately, they haven’t taken the trip over the water for the Irish leg of the tour, so tonight’s opening slot has been taken up by an Alt-Rock trio called ‘GNARKATS’. This ‘Grunge-Pop’ band are local to Belfast and have been plying their talents for a while know. Hailed back in 2021 as one of the top nine bands in the North to watch out for, they have not stood still for too long as they continue to get their melodic, fuzzed up sound out to a wider audience. The Answers Paul McMahon helped work on the 2021 E.P. Dreamers.

With a short 30minute set they kick off with the afore mentioned, ‘DREAMERS’ the title from their latest EP. Full of distorted guitar and a rumbling bassline, the drums crash along over the top, a great opening song full of attitude and head down dirty rock. The breakdowns might appear overly long and repetitive but the crowd seem to being enjoying this young band. The track finishes with a drawn-out distorted riff which flows into the second song of the night, ‘ALL THE TIME, again from the latest E.P. As this one plays out, the lead lick has a familiarity about it, as the song explodes into a laid-back delivery of almost shouted lyrics and even more distorted guitar from Jordan Evans, his stripped top and glasses bearing more than a passing resemblance to a character in a series of children’s books. This is crescendo’d by a flurry of cymbals before dropping into another of the familiar instrumental breaks. The fuzzed, compressed guitar zings as Aiden Rols throws in plenty of back beats as they drive this one along into the third song, again, from the second E.P., called ‘VOLUME UP’.

The picked guitar tone cuts through before it gets all overdriven with the subtly of a chainsaw wielded by a Zombie killer. Frontman Louis Nelson, is ripping out a low nasty bassline while delivering his words, together they pump out a solid wall of melody. The repetitive beats thrash along to a sudden finish and a thankyou from Nelson, as he introduces a new song, ‘HOMESICK’ which dropped on the 22rd March on all streaming platforms. Nelson tells us its fresh for him and fresh for us, almost apologetically, is he unsure of the words?

Again, a picked guitar intro strikes out, joined by the heavy hitting drums of Rols. The guitar, now distorted, repeats its lick as Nelson croons along, telling us he “wants to go home now”. The breakdown has some ascending screeching guitar sounds, before the song finishes with a distorted cry. The Penultimate song is ‘WAVES COLLIDE’ from the first E.P. Once again, the familiar distorted guitar blasts out across the venue, as the bass rumbles along, hooked into a solid kick drum and rhythmical snare crack. The screeching guitar lick and a marching drum beat sees the band bring the song to a timely end amidst heads being banged and shapes being thrown.

With the final song coming up Nelson asks “who’s here for The Answer?” he then introduces himself as Louis, Jordan on guitar and Aiden on drums, not the Stuart Robinson who I was expecting. The final song is another from the first E.P. the song ‘SORRY’, has a softer strumming guitar that breaks through with a riff that loops on itself a number of times, Rols joins in on the drums, laying down an almost identical groove, as the intensity builds up to a round of slams on the kit. A gentle voiced Nelson joins the party, at times his voice missing in the mix, a look at the sound board sees the engineer on the knobs. The breakdown has the guitar overloaded with distortion and compression to a point where the note almost dies as soon as it is struck. With plenty of chanting moments during the song for the crowd to sing along to, along with the dirty guitar and slamming drums providing a clap along moment, Nelson thanks everyone for coming along to see them open the night up. He finishes with more OH AW ah ooaa’s and a thundering round on the toms from Rols. The partisan crowd in tonight cheer and clap enthusiastically.

The opening set, I’d say, was a great showing from a band I’d not come across before, although the mix wasn’t perfect, they produced an enjoyable set and are well worth a listen to their studio releases. On doing so the layers are far clearer, and the guitar seems less over powering. Sometimes the over-zealous use of distortion hides the true melodic beauty in a tune, and I think at times this was certainly the case, well to me anyways. Being stood by the sound board and watching the engineer constantly fiddle with knobs probably didn’t help the sound coming across either.

Setlist : 1.Dreamers, 2. All the Time, 3. Volume Up, 4. Homesick, 5. Waves Collide, 6. Sorry

GNARKATS are : Louis Nelson – Vocals, Bass, Jordan Evans – Guitar, Aiden Rols – Drums

THE ANSWER’ are local boys and the crowd in tonight would suggest that they have a good following here at home. The venue is sold out, every inch of the floor is taken by someone wearing a piece of The Answer merch’. It’s going to be a warm one as the house music drops and Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ plays over the house P.A. this is The Answer’s ring walk music as Mickey Waters, James Heatley and Paul McMahon come out to huge cheers. They strap in and get straight into ‘KEEP ON BELIEVIN’ from the debut album. The huge sustained notes being joined by heavy bass and hard-hit drums which allows singer Cormac Neeson to race onto the stage and hit those great notes.

Hat on, hair down and sporting a new jacket he picks the microphone up and dances around the stage as this belter rips the roof off. Great licks fly from the fingers of McMahon as he is hitting the shapes with his Les Paul from the start, we’re flying as the song is brought down and a steady drum beat kicks out, McMahon joins in with a dirty guitar as we get ‘BLOOD BROTHER’, the first from the new album SUNDOWNERS. This has a steadying beat, there is a cowbell in the mix somewhere although I can’t see it being hit. A distorted, nasty riff breaks the song before Neeson has the crowd singing along, myself included, it’s a catchy hook.

We now drop back to the sophomore album of 2009, Everyday Demons. ‘TONIGHT’ another golden oldie has the crowd light in their loafers as they bounce along. The breakdown is tight and interestingly put together, the guitar tone is just where I like it. The song writing is mature for such an early album, it reminds me of Thunder, Bad Touch, the Black Crowes, all great bands so it’s in good company.

‘OH CHERRY’ follows on and it’s another banger from the new album. A 1-2-3-4 count and we’re off with “ooooooo cherry your sweeter than” the drums lay down a catchy groove that propel this one on, Neeson hasn’t stopped moving, he quickly resets his hat as he steps back from the microphone before kicking off into the dirty rock number that is ‘UNDER THE SKY’, another belter of a song. McMahons guitar is in your face as he grinds out a dirty riff. This is a great addition from the first album and has heads nodding along at the fast-paced lyrical delivery. Neeson has a remarkable voice, there is no sign of tour degradation as he finishes with a flurry.

The bouncy start to 2011’s ‘NOWHERE FREEWAY’ is high-octane, it’s delivery punches out from the stage with clarity. It has to be said that there is a new engineer on the knobs and the sound is perfect, he’s watching, not chasing the sound like the previous guy, excellent job my friend. McMahon’s guitar is once again up in the air as he rips out the lead break. Heatley is working that kit it’s getting a proper beating as the song eventually dies.

A blues harp sounds out from frontman Neeson, as a slide guitar riffs away in the corner. It’s joined by a tom-tom groove from Heatley, while Mickey Waters adds a dark rumbling bass line to the collective. The song slowly builds like an express train, almost tribal sounding as Neeson once again lays down a stunning vocal to the new albums title track ‘SUNDOWNERS’. He’s on fire! The slide guitar rips the venue a new one as the tribal drum beat has the heads nodding around me once again. The intensity of guitar and drums increases before a decaying finish has the crowd cheering and clapping in appreciation. What a great tune, Limelight2 liked that one a lot.

We are now having a run-on new material, next is ‘ALL TOGETHER’. This is another drum driven anthem which once again slams out hard as Neeson is, again, dancing around the stage. The staccato music thrusts, booked end the lyrical delivery as we get a disgustingly dirty riff from McMahon. This riff continues into ‘CALIFORNIA RUST’ another great sounding number, this could be a Rival Sons or Dirty Honey tune, it’s got that sort of 70’s vibe to it. The lead lick has that element of fuzz on it just to make it interesting without being over powering. The sustain from McMahon is great as this one sounds out.

We now jump to 2013 and the album New Horizon. ‘SPECTACULAR’ this is another great song full of punchy lyrics, and a driving back beat. The guitar is tasteful, full of grand little licks while the thundering bassline propels us forward into ‘COME FOLLOW ME’ another from the ridiculously good debut album. This hard hitter once again slams into the crowd. It’s a reminder that The Answer have a cracking back catalogue to choose from, this one being right up there. Sonically and lyrically superb, what a stunning debut album ‘RISE’ is.

‘ALWAYS RIGHT’, another new one, brings the pace back down with its more country rock feel. A cross stick pattern on the drums and a finger picked guitar slows things down so Neeson can show how versatile his raspy voice really is. The crowd are respectful and allow us to listen to his smooth delivery. This album is a belter, it’s got something for everyone on it, I’ve got to say it’s a worthy addition to any collection. Staying with the new album we finish the set with ‘WANT YOU TO LOVE ME’. A fuzzed up dirty guitar is set loose, rampaging with its nastiness, combined with a brooding bass they combine to flatten the crowd. The wall of sound has the crowd cheering along, equalling the volume coming from the stage. A great finish to the set.

The two-song encore has the band continue with the new material as ‘LIVIN’ ON THE LINE’ punches out. This anthemic tune has the arms punching and the ground shaking with the crowd clearly enjoying this banger. The final song is full of slide guitar and a stompin’ beat. ‘PREACHER’ again, is from the debut album ‘RISE’.

Delivered with the whip crackin’ delicacy of an American ‘Preacher’ banjaxing his disciples with the mixed promises of a travelling medicine Man. The song, once again shows off Neeson’s excellent voice, it finishes with drawn-out notes and some slick slide licks from McMahon.

A great banger to close the night with, looking around at the crowd I think they would agree as they erupt in a deafenin’ round of applause. Back out in the cool Belfast night I chat with others about just how good the band are and definitely worth the ticket price.

Set List: 1. Keep Belivin’, 2. Blood Brother, 3. Tonight, 4. Oh Cherry, 5. Under the Sky, 6. Nowhere Freeway, 7. Sundowners, 8. All Together, 9. California Rust, 10. Spectacular, 11. Come Follow Me, 12. Always Right, 13. Want You to Love Me

Encore: 14. Livin’ on The Line, 15. Preachin’

THE ANSWER are: Cormac Neeson – Vox, Harmonica, Paul McMahon – Guitar, Mickey Waters – Bass, James Heatley – Drums

If there were any questions raised in the venue tonight, then THE ANSWER has just been given to them all. It’s been one hell of a night, in a stunning venue, the atmosphere has been through the roof and the musicianship on the next level.

If you want an album recommendation then I’d say anything from the bands back catalogue would suffice, there’s not many bands that knock out a classic debut long player and follow it with subsequent bangers (a word I use a lot, I know). The new Long Player is class and shows a level of maturity in the band and will appeal to a wider audience, but you can’t fault any of their albums.

With tonight being the last night of the UK leg of the tour, the band head off into Europe, oh boy they’re in for a treat!

If you missed the live gigs then spend the ticket money on getting the latest album SUNDOWNER, and if you can find it, treat yourself to the debut album ‘RISE’ with the change, there’s good reason why it features so heavily in the set list .

You’re welcome!

Photography by MPM

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