On the Loose
A Friday or two ago, I went to see the Republic of Loose during their residency at Dublin’s Academy. I’d heard great things about the new album (the first tune from it, “I Love Music” is a winner) and I’d …
A Friday or two ago, I went to see the Republic of Loose during their residency at Dublin’s Academy. I’d heard great things about the new album (the first tune from it, “I Love Music” is a winner) and I’d seen them back in January in Groningen, but the home turf is always more of a test.
It was a hell of a show. For a start, watching the audience was almost as entertaining as what was happening onstage. That floorshow was a flotsam and jetsam of Dublin past, present and future: apprentice chancers from a decade ago who’ve now graduated to prize chancers, a couple of multi-millionaires, a pair of weather-beaten poets, a future TD for Dublin South, contestants from Terenure’s Next Top Model, a few Italian wideboys who kept admiring each other’s perfectly sculpted sideburns, three Nigerian body-builders and at least 67 twentysomething first-jobbers with large credit card debts.
The real action, though, was happening onstage. Few acts can match the Loose when it comes to firing up funky riffs, chunky breaks and stone-cold infectious verse-chorus-verse bits all night long. They don’t look it, but they’re the house band at the Apollo on an alternative univese.
But best of all, they’ve a show-stealing frontman in Mick Pyro. Channelling in fairly equal measure the spirits of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, James Brown, Brendan Grace, Solomon Burke, Joe Dolan and LL Cool J, Pyro cajoled, provoked, teased, screamed, shouted, stomped and flirted away for the entire set. Any time the show was on the verge of flagging, Pyro would intuitively stoke up the atmosphere again. He was putting the “show” in “showbusiness” that night for sure.
For any long-time Loose watchers, the most noticable thing about the show was that Pyro was as sober as a disctrict court judge on his way to an all-night poker game. Now and then, Pyro would take a swig from a bottle of beer, but he wasn’t as messy or unfocused as we’ve seen him at previous shows. He was sharp, on point, rolling with it. The two facts may well be related.
The drink made an appearance in Neil Dunphy’s fine interview with the band in the Sunday Tribune. Dunphy realised that Pyro’s battle with the bottle had as much to do with the band and new album “Volume IV: Johnny Pyro and the Dance of Evil” as the music which inspired the songs.
Pyro certainly had no problems with Dunphy’s questions:
“Look, I have no problem admitting I’m an alcoholic. I gave up for a year and then fell off the wagon.”
There’s a song on the new album about it, titled ‘Poquito’. “It’s true, yeah. It’s about me falling off the wagon. Trying to describe that feeling. I’m not drinking spirits anymore.”
Is he aware where it all could go? “Well I’m aware of where it is. I drink too much. I have a problem with alcohol. I have to stop, but I need time off to do it. I don’t buy into a lot of the psychology on it, though. If I thought what I was doing was making my art suffer, I wouldn’t do it. I’m trying. I’m taking it pretty easy just drinking beer. I was pretty scared of making some of the music we are making, even the hip-hop on the new album. But you have to listen to yourself. I can be pretty cynical of people telling me what to do or that what I’m doing is wrong.”
Most of the new album was written while Pyro was on the wagon for the year. “I don’t think alcohol has anything to do with creativity, ” he says. “I get very anxious sometimes in social situations and it can help you then, but in terms of writing songs, drink is nothing but a hindrance. I was drunk writing ‘Comeback Girl’, but then maybe that’s why it’s a repetitive hit.”
Whatever about the ease with which Irish society as a whole self-medicates with alcohol for all that ails them, musicians have a much more complex relationship with drink. At work and play, alcohol is there at every single turn. They’re probably playing in a licensed premises so it’s available before the show and after the show. It’s probably on the posters advertising the gig too in the shape of the ubiquitous sponsorship from some drinks company or other and it’s on the rider in the dressingroom too. Like every other sector in society, some handle it fine while others, well, just don’t handle it at all and go off the rails.
It’s the same when it comes to admitting there’s a problem. Some do and some prefer to keep up the illusion that life is A-OK. They maintain the bravado, sink a couple of pints and play Jack-the-lad rather than admit this drug has taken over their life to the extent that they can’t function without it.
But as Pyro showed, that belief is a bit of a fake. He points out in the Tribune interview that being off the drink didn’t have any detrimental effect on his songwriting for the new album, which is probably their finest work to date. And, on the basis of that Academy show a few weeks ago, it has been nothing but beneficial for his mojo as a frontman either.