Live Reviews: Kodaline – 170 Russell, 18/3/19

The soft-rock tearjerkers balance stadium sized aspirations with a medium sized venue

Kodaline ended a run of sold-out Asian shows with a set of gigs at Melbourne’s 170 Russell, in support of their new album “Politics of Living”. The record adds to a discography of heartbreak, passion and love, an accessible sound and image that made the group one of the biggest acts in Ireland.

The band have no problem drawing crowds of their own countrymen on a Monday night.

The show is wall-to-wall with the Irish, happy to sing arm-in-arm like it was a rousing, emotional football anthem. And make no mistake, anthems are the goal. At every stage of the Kodaline experience their stadium-sized aspirations are on display. They’re coming for the Coldplays, the Snow Patrols, the primetime TV drama climax and any lighter-waving football field halftime show.

So how to approach arena-ready choruses and dreams of Wembley in a medium sized club? The soaring vocals of Steve Garrigan speak for themselves, as crisp as any high-end recording, and do their best to transport the crowd. Bassist Jason Boland and guitarist Mark Prendergrast lead claps like they’re commanding a venue of thousands. But in an intimate setting, personality is key, especially when you can almost reach out and touch the artist. Garrigan says “how’s everybody doing” enough times you start to wonder if he really cares, and there’s not much in the way of banter other than a few too many “sing it if you know it!”s. And on St Paddy’s Day weekend, no less. Even the mandatory waving phone lights don’t work in a room like this–everyone except the band is looking at the back of an iPhone.

Hardcore fans didn’t seem to mind, as Kodaline dutifully walked through their biggest hits, starting with ‘Politics of Living’ opener ‘Follow Your Fire’. It’s a good introduction to the band’s set up, an extremely tight rhythm section, likely the result of playing together since high school, and the occasional midi loop or pitched-up sample to give a contemporary spin. To the uninitiated viewer it’s all just on the right side of interesting, but to any fan with an emotional attachment it’s an exaltation, and there’s plenty of people caught up in the passion.

Slower, emotional songs are clearly the band’s strength, and the evening most closely resembles Rod Laver Arena when the band leave the stage for Garrigan to do a stripped-down performance of ‘The One’. It’s simple, sweet and the best case of the frontman leading into full-on heart-throb. ‘Shed a Tear’ shows the band’s talent at layering vocals and strengthening choruses with thick organs and catchy hooks. Even ‘High Hopes’, perhaps a predictable pop track, gets fresh life on stage, and the band’s songwriting talent shines.

There’s weaker points. Particularly when the band gets too upbeat and things start to approach Insurance Commercial Territory. Tracks like “Head Held High” might be too shameless with its sugary sweetness and mainstream appeal, even for the totally invested fans. “La la la’s” are hard to pull of at the best of times, and Kodaline don’t have the edge to do it.

Judging by the reception, it’s the show the crowd were expecting, and the raw talent is obvious. Still, it’s easy to criticise a lack of intimacy, spointeity or attitude–though Kodaline set their sights so high, they might not care.