After a near-decade as a band, the legendary, noisy alt-rockers Bitch Falcon gave their swan song at Dublin’s Whelan’s on April Fool’s Day, an event delayed since the middle of last December when the omicron variant reared its ugly head. While it pushed back Bitch Falcon’s cessation by almost four months, it was just a delay of the inevitable.
I’m sure they have their reasons, but in so many ways ending Bitch Falcon seems premature, as it felt like their career was only really starting to rise in prominence to the extent that the band could go mainstream. The potential popularity that the band could’ve expected to have (at least domestically) would have a ceiling; not just because of their shockingly outrageous and sordid name, but because music this abrasive just does not get elevated by the good boys and girls who dictate pop culture for those unwilling to do their own legwork.
But for any weirdo (such as myself) who used to watch Irish artists’ music videos and performances on Dublin Community Television (DCTV) back in the day, Bitch Falcon are one of the biggest names to arise from that (for lack of a better term) “underground” scene.
This is apparent by the 400 punters who turned up to pay their respects at the sold-out inhumation. With the postpunk and posthardcore nature of the show, this invited a bricolage of attendees with the aesthetic stylings of various subcultures, occupations and associations, like punks, skinheads, hipsters, dirtbag leftists, normcore, goths, art students, skaters, grungers, yuccies and people living la Vida life aquatic.
Whelan’s was an appropriate venue for such an event, as it is essentially the oratory of live music for Dubliners. There’s a genuine sense that Whelan’s is what a small club should feel like. It’s Dublin’s CBGB or 924 Gilman Street. All music lovers, regardless of their preferences, love Whelan’s. For Irish artists, headlining the main room of Whelan’s seems like a rite of passage, a “we made it” moment.
Support for the night came from Grave Goods, a relatively new three-piece (who seem newer due to that whole pandemic thing affecting their live opportunities) consisting of members from Girls Names, Pins and September Girls. Their trashy minimalistic (to be clear, that should be read as an endearing compliment), double-stopped-guitar-riff-ladened tracks, in conjunction with their artsy, organic, instrumentally-induced soundscapes, which can feel impromptu, invoke acts such as Wire, Gang of Four, Neu!, The Ex, Pere Ubu and Lydia Lunch, as well as Siouxsie and the Banshees and early The Cure. Even if their music is not for you, you would have to be very cynical to say that what they’re doing isn’t interesting, challenging and unique. They’re definitely an act worth keeping an eye out for and one that I look forward to seeing more of in the future.
Then the main event: Bitch Falcon. Over the years, there have been several line-up changes, but their line-up for the night was the consistent union of Lizzie Fitzpatrick on guitar and vocals and Nigel Kenny on drums, with Thumper’s Oisín Leahy-Furlong on bass.
As a rhythm section, Nigel and Oisín make a great duo. Oisín stands in place like a soldier for most of the performance, picking some intermediary root notes which add grit, while Nigel accompanies him with note-perfect drumming. This relative simplicity of the music is not a criticism: if it works, it works. And it does work. There are also songs where Oisín gets to show his dexterity and the time signatures in the songs aren’t always exactly 4/4, and what each member contributes to a song at any given moment do not always mirror each other. There is a stealthy skill on display—the two work as a stable core to Lizzie’s entropy.
From the get-go, Lizzie establishes herself as a formidable presence on stage, as she Kubrick-stares down at the audience before even hitting a note. From there, she embraces her presence as the stage’s centrepiece, even joking at one point: “I’m such a narcissist. I’m getting carried away with myself,” after pouring beer on her head and spinning her hair around. Lizzie is set free – the id to the rhythm section’s superego and the band’s ego – to engage in all kinds of theatrics. There is a somewhat unappreciated high level of competency on display from Lizzie, as she sings, dances/jumps about and plays some tricky guitar parts simultaneously.
In addition to counteracting the standstill stance of the rhythm section, Lizzie’s guitar contrasts the bass and drums’ drudging to sound almost celestial, like an angel elevating from a swamp. At times the guitar even seems to be contributing backup harmonies. The sound mixing for the night was on-point – surrounding the hallowed ground with the reverence, it deserves – as was the lighting, which perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere for any given song. Whoever was responsible for the stage production deserves kudos.
I had remembered Bitch Falcon – who I haven’t seen since their last headline show at Whelan’s, back in the halcyon days of 2017 – being an absolutely mental live performance, with constant stage-diving, mosh pits and crowd surfing. I was surprised then that most of the songs were spacious and pensive, sticking to the walls of the venue like the vapour of humidity generated from the band and audience giving it their all. Lizzie even compares the band to the type you would see performing at The Bronze in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
That was until I realised that the set was split into two parts, with the second half giving the grungy, down picking, energetic extravaganza I remembered. And the house went wild. There was chaos, crowd surfing, headbanging, dancing, jumping, shouting, drinking, cheering, clapping, whistling, laughter, banter, and then there was silence. A “thank you for coming.” An empty stage. Feedback switched off. Then a world without Bitch Falcon.
It’s nice that Bitch Falcon had the opportunity to officially have one last blow-out for people to experience. A lot of indie acts go by the wayside without much ceremony or care, regardless of their quality. There wasn’t much sentimentality on display, but appropriate amounts of appreciation were given to all who made the band what they were. Bitch Falcon’s final performance will carry elegy and significance for a subset of people in the know for a long time.
It’s less akin to The Beatles performing on top of the Apple Records’ rooftop in ’69 and more akin to Mission of Burma performing at the Bradford Ballroom in ’83 or Big Black performing at the Georgetown Steamplant in ’87: a culturally and artistically significant endpoint that most today will be unaware of, but which a lot of people from tomorrow will wish they were there for.
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