Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

What’s that sound?

After much advance muttering over the venue, Sufjan Stevens’ show at Dublin’s Helix on Saturday night turned out to be a triumph

Pianoman: Sufjan Stevens sees the light at Dublin's Helix

Mon, Aug 31, 2015, 14:21


There’s a first time for everything and Saturday night’s Sufjan Stevens’ show was the first time I’ve attended a show at The Helix. I reckon there were probably many others at the brace of sell-out shows who could say the same thing because the venue on the DCU campus is not exactly top of the list when it comes to indie rock gigs in the capital. I could be wrong but there’ll be few who were at Saturday’s sublime, spectacular show who will be lining up for such forthcoming attractions at the venue as Ray Lynam and the Hillbillies and the Johnny Cash Roadshow.

Many at the shows were probably a little apprehensive about the shows in advance given the fact that the Helix is largely an untested venue for this sort of gig. In addition, the ri-ra and ruaile buaile which broke out after a Modest Mouse show at the venue a few weeks ago probably coloured opinion too. By many accounts, the sound was muck for that particular show and many people walloped the venue as a result. It turned out, however, that some of Modest Mouse’s other shows, including one earlier that same week in Manchester, also suffered from atrocious sound, so perhaps the problem was more the band and crew. But no, the venue was pilloried by many for something which they had absolutely zilch to do with. Fans are always unwilling, sadly, to admit that it’s the band rather than venue or promoter who is at fault.

Because there were certainly no problems in this regard on Saturday. It’s rare to be able to say you could hear the wind-chimes clearly, but you could hear the wind-chimes clearly on “Redford”. Actually you could hear absolutely every single thing which happened on that stage because the sound on the night was perfect. That’s because Stevens, his band and his crew ensured this was going to be the case long before they arrived in Dublin. A shite sound on the night is really, in the words of well known indie rock fan Roy Keane, a case of failing to prepare meaning preparing to fail.

Bands will know the logistics of all the venues they will visit on a tour in advance. Some will have played those venues before or, in the case of a new venue, will have obtained the layout plans of the room and have a good idea what to expect. They’ll know how much of a PA system they’ll need to make sure the room sounds right for the performance. Of course, PA specs will differ from venue to venue – and there will always be some acts who will cut back on PA requirements for cost reasons – but a good act working with a good crew can make the necessary advance planning to ensure a room sounds right for the punters who are paying the bills at the end of the day. Any act who doesn’t do this is showing a massive disrespect for their audience – and any act seeking to blame a venue for a poor sound are really just abusing the ignorance of their fanbase.

Going on the evidence of Saturday night, there’s a very smart venue on the northside of the capital city which can suit shows like this to a T. It’s a great room, a much better, nicer and warmer space than the sterile, unloved Bord Gais Energy Theatre and is far more user-friendly (ie there is actual leg room between the rows) than the dowdy Olympia. Let’s hope we see more acts and audiences working out how to get to Collins Avenue in the future.