With support from Goodnight Lenin
Beth Jeans Houghton - Live at Whelan’s, Dublin

Whelan’s is not a large venue but it appears absolutely cavernous as fans await the arrival of Beth Jeans Houghton and The Hooves of Destiny. The sparse crowd loiter at the bar and a small, seated area left of the stage, leaving the floor mostly empty, apart from the few who stick rigidly to the surrounding walls forming an impromptu rectangle.

It’s this quiet atmosphere that greets support act Goodnight Lenin. The five Birmingham boys play an anecdotal set, regaling drinking stories from their Cork show the night before (where there entire tour budget ended up behind the bar) and earning kudos by shouting out the Irish contingent of their family who have come to hear their verdant, Americana-rock sound and well-drilled four-part harmonies. In the end, though, their likeability leaves a longer impression than their songs.

Beth Jeans Houghton and her Hooves of Destiny are up next and their outfits certainly shake the crowd into life. The Hooves attire veers from military uniforms, party wear and a variety of hats and helmets that don’t quite match what’s going on below. Houghton herself is relatively restrained, with a flamboyant but still smart shirt and pants number perhaps a reaction to her recently revealed frustration at her fashion sense often being more prominently discussed then her music. Beth’s come here to play, and she’s not having the rectangle, ushering the crowd to approach the stage. She’ll repeat the command several times, ensuring someone is always in touching distance of her guitar. Slowly punters filter down from the bar to fill the room.

The band open with a variety of cuts from their most recently released album ‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose’. The single ‘Atlas’ is such a killer opener and Houghton’s powerful but pretty falsetto is in fine nick, as the band deliver faithful performances of their most noted tracks. Calum Howard’s twinkling keys on the quiet-to-loud ‘Dodecahedron’ are a highlight, as are Findlay MacAskill’s pretty strings on the emotive ‘Liliput’, which helps underscore a beautiful vocal from Houghton. Like Goodnight Lenin, the set is punctuated with interplay between Beth and the crowd, and the small, intimate venue is perfect for her noted banter. Trying to follow the singer’s scattered thought process is actually quite amusing, as conversations can veer wildly from one sentence from the next. Her humour sometimes is childishly crude, but she’s incredibly likeable throughout, even stopping at one stage to enquire whether her pen pal had shown up amid fears a lack of interest from friends and his reluctance to come alone would keep him from attending.

The new songs that make up most of the set’s second half aren’t quite as impressive as what has come before, however. The new direction the band seems to be taking features heavier, less-melodic arrangements and even a rap from the vocalist, which takes everyone aback. But a real “tell your friends” moment comes towards the end of the set when Goodnight Lenin are invited back on stage to provide backing vocals on a cover of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’. Houghton, lyrics in hand, gives a rousing rendition. The Geordie actually has an affinity for the American life, planning on recording her new record there in the winter and hoping to take up residence in Los Angeles. Is world domination on her mind then? She’s got the talent and the star quality no doubt, but as we’re sure every punter in Whelan’s would testify, it would be a shame to lose her to the larger venues.

Words by Dean Van Nguyen
Photo Credit: Piper Ferguson

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