Monday, 8 April 2013


The lead singer, the non-sound of drums and a blistering opening are the best memories one can take from this fine but confused gig

When I heard an AlunaGeorge recording for the first time, I knew that I had stumbled across something equally unique and unusual; a diverse and mixed series of increasingly heavy techno beats, intriguingly sung by Aluna Dewji-Francis. To these ears, it was like a mixture of hip-hop and electronica, with maybe a sprinkling of New Order and Lily Allen. Underneath the loud instruments, vocals of yearning frustration could be heard, as if Dewji-Francis was painfully drumming her fingers away, waiting for a happy resolution that would never come. And the song ended far too soon.

Ironic, then, that the band's first live performance in Belfast is as promising, frustrating and truncated as their material to date appears to be. By the time Dewji-Francis, fellow band member George Reid and the rest of the AlunaGeorge crew literally step into the Limelight, we've already been waiting for two hours. The rumoured support that Derry-Londonderry punk band The Wonder Villains might provide never materialises, so the band have to work extra hard to lift a middling crowd.

Aluna Dewji-Francis
But lift it they do, with the 1980's style lighting and the extremely electric funk of opening numbers "Just A Touch" and "We Are Chosen" bringing plenty of excitement to the proceedings. Dewji-Francis slinks around the stage like a female leopard stalking her prey, except that you feel this leopard can change her spots. It's hugely promising stuff.

One might argue, however, that Dewji-Francis is changing her spots too much. As the gig goes on, we find that the band's performing and musical style does not easily define itself. Like a fearless cat-like creature one moment, but a tentative tabby the next, Dewji-Francis can't quite get her claws into this crowd. Nor can the rest of the band. It's not that they're not trying, but the novelty wears off quicker than expected. What begins as energising quickly becomes exhausting as the group, realising how little material they have, resort to almost desperate measures to impress. Minutes after Dewji-Francis has commanded the stage with an almost Goddess-like presence, she's tentatively tiptoeing over to the keyboards to help the band play and sing a cover of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It". It comes across as a mix of the ethereal and the mundane. It's not versatility; it's unease. You don't quite know if you're set for "Black Velvet" or Black Grape. At least Dewji-Francis' winning smile keeps the set afloat.

Disaster strikes when the group’s drum machine – their MacBook – temporarily conks out. A baffled Dewji-Francis looks on. What can she do? What can the group do? Amuse the crowd with a couple of circus tunes on the keyboard, that’s what, and by the time the machine is repaired, Dewji-Francis is throwing herself into "Don’t Tell Me" and "Your Drums, Your Love" with more verve than ever. The spirit of the start of the set has been recaptured. Unfortunately, the aforementioned songs are the last we'll hear on the night.

Dewji-Francis, Reid and company look almost relieved when they leave the stage. They know the gig could, and probably should, have gone better – but it's hard to deny that the cheers at the end, coupled with the best moments of the set, have enhanced their reputation. Putting the inconsistency and uncertainty on show tonight aside, you feel that the best is yet to come for the band. On the whole, the gig is a much needed shot in the arm for AlunaGeorge, a bittersweet symphony that may yet lay the foundations for a burgeoning musical career.