JANAJ are a band I’ve heard an awful lot about. They are winners of the Irish Youth Music Awards, contributors to a compilation album that got into the Top 5 in Ireland, regular goers of open mic nights and general popular heads in the Galway music scene. The only time I had seen them live previously was at the An Áit Eile Cultural Weekender back in October where they played a very charming set, sliding through the annoyance of power outages with ease and maturity and keeping the audience thoroughly entertained and upbeat throughout.
When I heard of their planned “All Ages Show” at Monroe’s Live to launch their new EP I was both interested and impressed. It is such a great idea to throw an all-ages show during the Easter break; I think back to mid-term breaks as a kid and all I can remember is spending excessive time in bed or on the couch. It would have been great to be able to go to see a full rock-band perform on a big stage with big sound and have a bit of fun.
And so, I was thrilled to see the venue was packed. There were toddlers, kids, teenagers, parents and grandparents in attendance and all were relaxed, comfortable and enjoying the atmosphere. And they were right to enjoy it; the atmosphere was great!
Ariel, an alternative rock band from Newry, opened the night. Lead singer Caoimhlin Fegan showed off an incredible voice and plenty of character. Their music is the right amount of heavy to bring energy but not be too abrasive. Their drummer slips out of time on occasion but his style is powerful and energetic (much to the misfortune of a few drumsticks and the bassists head at one point). The vocals were really the standout part of Ariel’s set. Perhaps it was the enthusiastic drumming or a poor sound mix but there was a very weak guitar sound, resulting in an overload of bass and drum.
The crowd for Ariel was a little sparse but that was not down to the band. I always found the Monroe’s Live venue a little odd with its split levels, the middle of which inevitably becomes a trap for both the sound and the audience. It’s a shame because the main stage area is probably one of the best in the City, despite being quite small. However, most sat at their tables on the lower level and listened but didn’t venture up the steps to the stage.
That all changed when JANAJ took to the stage. The droves of fans crashed onto the dance floor in groups and started rocking the place. Kids these days really know how to dance (he says in envy) and it was a breath of fresh air to see everybody enjoying themselves. That includes the band themselves, who were laughing and smiling for the whole set. It’s wonderfully infectious to watch a band that have fun while they play.
JANAJ opened the set with an ambient slow burner adorned with smoke and lights, giving time for the crowd to gather. Much like with Ariel, the vocals here are fantastic. Keyboard player, Alice O’Donnell’s voice is so strong and has a beautiful tone. Front man, John Martin Tierney, provides a real contrast, acting as the main entertainer and hype-man. They are at their strongest when singing in harmony, where the result is even better than the sum of its parts. Both O’Donnell and Tierney’s voices together seem to fill the whole spectrum and give just enough grittiness and sweetness.
Drummer, Niamh Tierney, provides a stark contrast to the opening act. Her performance is a vivid example of perfect timing, patience and restraint. She gives the rest of the band space to fill out the sound. I really think she is one of the best drummers around at the moment and her performance made for an even more enjoyable show for me.
The set hops from dark, heavy, alt-rock songs to light-hearted pop-rock. The lighter numbers, and numerous covers, go down a treat with the young crowd who all sing along. However, I feel JANAJ sound cleaner and more refined on the more serious numbers such as Nefertiti and I Don’t Wanna. It probably goes against what I said earlier about the band enjoying their show, but I’d like to see a bit more of the serious subject matter rather than the slightly odd content of ‘Sun Will Shine’.
JANAJ closed out a fantastic show with their softer, harmony led ‘Spinning’. The night was filled with so much energy and charisma. The mixed crowd enjoyed every minute and so did I. Kudos to Monroe’s and JANAJ for putting on a family friendly, all-ages show. It is sorely needed here in Galway and just shows how stuck we are for a good, open venue when an all-ages show still has to take place in a bar.