Photography by David Harris
Snow Patrol travelled 20,000km to get here and this is what they got.
The People vs Snow Patrol. There’s always a sense of humbleness and self-efficacy in a band that struggled to make it in their early years. Gary Lightbody is triumphant in exclaiming to us that the band is celebrating its 25th anniversary, but what his rose coloured glasses don’t suggest is that for many of those years they toiled in the doldrums, struggling to stay on record labels and together as a band. But about 40 million albums off the shelves later, that can be seen as just a chapter of the hero’s journey. Surprisingly, Lightbody still wears the grateful face of a man who can’t believe this has happened to him and in the age of self-entitled rock stars, it’s refreshingly charming.
Playing a stripped back, acoustic set without their effusive drummer Jonny Quinn, the three-piece Snow Patrol are instead left to rely on Lightbody’s natural wit and razor-sharp humour to make up for the single-geared dynamic of two acoustic guitars strumming the same chord. The first of which is a dud. It’s an ignominious, if not slightly adorable way to begin the performance, as the straight-faced lead singer stops the song five seconds in to own up to his mediocre guitar playing and warning it could be the first of many mistakes of the night.
With a quick restart, ‘Chocolate’, a single from their breakthrough, Mercury Prize-nominated album Final Straw properly begins the evening. It sounds like the innocence of youth. With the setlist heavily leaning on last year’s Wildness, the trio still looked the energised indie-pop stars they were on their first Australian tour 15 years ago, yet it’s clear they are playing to decreasing returns. It’s not that the songs off their most recent albums have declined in quality, it’s just that their formula has become stale with age.
Final Straw was a dark, indie-pop album that explored quirky songwriting structures and textures. Their follow up, the stadium rock behemoth Eyes Open took incredibly earnest love songs and turned them up to 11. They might have read like the diary entries of a hormonal teenager, but their simplicity resonated and it became the highest-selling album of the year. Each album since though has tried to replicate this sincere-to-a-tee format, something which can get a bit tedious after a while.
The acoustic format also comes back to haunt them in this regard. As the repeated “I love you more than life itself” lyrics are accentuated by the understated production; at its worse Snow Patrol, one of the biggest pop/rock bands of the century are reduced to sounding like a pub band. Albeit one whose vocalist has some serious chops. Lightbody’s higher register might have given way to middle age, barely able to sing the chorus of ‘You’re All I Have’, but his chest mix is still as strong and beautiful as ever and he hits ‘Run’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ out of the park.
With these moments the strength of Snow Patrol’s best material speaks for itself, with the ability to oust Coldplay’s Chris Martin. But as novel as it is to hear these songs with different arrangements, they are U2-sized anthems and a part of their magic lies in the wall of sound production that two acoustic guitars and a keyboard just can’t compare to.
What can’t be understated however is how obnoxious the largely baby boomer crowd behaves through the evening. It’s as if they are playing a game of Shit House Etiquette Bingo. From the woman who is filming, literally, every, single, fucking song. To the punter on the balcony insistently screaming “PLAY CHASING CARS” through the set as if a band would fly 20,000 kms from Northern Ireland to Australia and not play their most popular song. There were two couples in the third row who took it upon themselves to scream precisely in the quietest moments of every ballad and the bloke up the back yelling politicised British sentiments at the end of every second or third song.
The crowd sucked. The crowd sucked to the point it affected the music and the patience of the affable Lightbody was teetering, as he used every tongue-in-cheek, stand up comedian trick in the book to deflect the blatant rudeness of his audience. It was awkward and embarrassing and it took away from the evening. Snow Patrol for all their heart-on-sleeve sappiness, deserved better.
Highlight: ‘Run’ is still the best thing they’ve ever done.
Lowlight: That Baby Boomer energy.
Crowd favourite: PLAY CHAASSINGGGG CAAAARRRSSSSSSSS.