By Christopher Parkhill
Between them and a huddle of eager fans, Heathers deduce that it’s been two years and a month since they last took to a stage in Belfast, when they supported Paolo Nutini at Belsonic (“we couldn”t understand a word he said, we just smiled and nodded”). Given their evolution since then, it’s fitting that tonight, Ellie and Louise Macnamara are the main attraction around Custom House Square – the same place Belsonic is hosted.
The youthful, mainly female crowd is initially sparse as Strabane’s Tokyo Empire converge for a thirty minute set, diving straight into “Say Anything”, a beckoning slice of pop rock that does well to draw in the crowd. Their eight song set is nothing if not consistent, with solid rhythm ornamented by echoing lead guitar that attempts no pyrotechnics, but complements a tight, focused performance.
The room was at capacity by the time the sisters and their band strolled out to assemble their instruments in a less-than-generous space on the floor. Heathers are mere inches from fans as they launch into “Circular Road”, the surging, anthemic lead track of new album Kingdom. It demands every ounce of their stunning vocal power. They then delve into a set list based around the new record, showcasing their new-found electro-pop side early on with “Waiter” and “Lions, Tigers, Bears”, the latter of which sees Louise set down her guitar “for the first time ever”. A few numbers from 2008 debut Here Not There get aired, including party piece “Remember When”, the hit that thrust them into the spotlight following its use in that Discover Ireland ad campaign.
An intimate, communal atmosphere is conjured as chairs are pulled in close, while some choose to sit on the floor. The pair confide occasional insights with the crowd, including their disappointment at not getting to the Titanic building, and the inspiration behind “The Third Rail” (in case you”re wondering, it”s mole people). The sisters are likeable and down-to-earth, and compelling to watch. They regularly trade smiling glances, taking cues from one another as if one sister wouldn”t function without the other.
A striking cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” precedes the excellent new single “Forget Me Knots”, which has the majority of the crowd passionately singing along. The evening moves towards a close with the outstanding “Underground Beneath”, which declares “When I leave, I go away”. With this in mind, the crowd beg for one more song. Despite having nearly lost their voices, the pair find a way through “Find a Way” (sorry).
Many of the crowd remain in the venue afterwards; and understandably so. The professional, polished sound of Kingdom is recreated with impressive accuracy in a live setting. The fact that the sisters do not miss a note between them all night leaves the impression that in Heathers, Irish music possesses something special.