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Live Review: The Scratch @ Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver – March 24th 2023

After years of living in Ireland and reviewing many a gig in venues big and small around Dublin, you can imagine my delight when a little piece of Dublin made it over to Vancouver to play the Rickshaw just a week after St. Paddy’s Day. The fact that never got to see the exciting trad-metal band The Scratch play at iconic bars like Whelan’s in Dublin is, of course, a tragedy, but I would have to say that catching them on the tail end of a wee US & Canada tour more than made up for it. If you have any affinity for traditional Irish folk music and are a rock-lover, check out their music immediately. But if you only get to hear their albums, it’s still only half the story, as this band promises one of the best times you will have at a live show.

The Scratch is a phoenix that rose from the ashes of a metal band entitled Red Enemy. The bandmates found themselves hitting their heads against a wall with the project and it fizzled. When they gave it up, they started playing traditional Irish standards just for the “craic”, to lighten the mood in their musical brains, and suddenly magic was born. Transferring their metal influence into culturally inspired songs turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, and their special brand of chaotic fun was born. Audiences lapped it up and the guys quickly gained momentum in the live performances, now with cult followings across North America, all of whom were delighted to take them in last week. 

The Scratch’s foursome entered the stage with a take-no-prisoners attitude and commenced to deliver a thorough spanking to the audience that didn’t let up for a second throughout their set. Debuting their new single “Latchico” the band set in a trance-like rhythm that reverberated throughout the packed hall. The energy in the room was frenetic, people pushing to get into the fray on the floor, drawn in by the heavy circularly hypnotic beats. Percussionist and vocalist Daniel ‘Lango’ Lang mounted his cajon and hammered it mercilessly with what looked like custom-rigged sticks designed to hit just the right angle, and perhaps produce the most skull-vibrating rhythms. Lead singer and guitarist Jordan “Jordo” O’Leary played his instrument in fiddle-like lines, his fingers dancing across the fretboard with ease in unbelievable unity with secondary guitarist Conor “Dock” Dockerty. Bassist Peter Keogh was a bottle rocket, kicking his knees in the air, standing precariously on a stool, and swinging his bass over his head. What ensued was the most joyful moshing soundtrack the venue has likely seen in quite some time.

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The lads brought flash and flair to a rock tale of folk legend “Joseph Ronald Drew”. With Irish swagger and accents thick as wet cement, chanting “mind yer own fuckin’ business” the group teased the song out to a hard-rocking saga from the snippet-sized album version. In fact, all the recordings pale in comparison to this band’s live presence. Equally, their ability to codeswitch seamlessly between visible traditional Celtic folk structures and heavier metal dirges is a thing to behold, changing up the tempo, strum patterns, and tone throughout songs. Bringing a punk-rock attitude, the frontman had the crowd chanting “bullshit” throughout the deliciously damning track “Flaker”, a smirking indictment of those contacts in your phone who will always leave you on read. The shorts-clad guys were barreling so hard into each and every song that they were left “pissin’ sweat” (Jordo’s words) after just three songs. 

“What are you all doin’ here?” Jordo shouted in disbelief at the hyped crowd. This Vancouver date was a last-minute add-on to the tour by popular demand on social media, and the turnout did not disappoint. With a great percentage of the significant Irish population in Vancouver out to support the fledgling band, it’s no wonder The Scratch lauded Vancouver as the liveliest city on their tour on this, their first visit to the city. For all the love the audience was putting in, Jordo gave it all back in spades, thrashing his voice into the mic as though lacking faith in its capabilities to suitably deliver his characterful vocals. He proceeded to spend song breaks irreverently chucking tinnies to concertgoers who had already been spotted wading on the floor double- and triple-fisting cans. 

The grappling embrace of their native land percolated across The Scratch’s set, showing just how leaning into their shared love of their cultural upbringing has produced such fruitful musical exploration in the band. Regional references in tracks like “War of the Buttons”, named for an iconic Irish 90s movie, bring a unique point of view to the genre, as do the common conversational tone of tracks like “God Slap”. The next song “Cúnla”, a cover of a trad standard that the guys set to a madcap music video made quite a splash online. The video sees the band interpreting the old Irish lyrics in their own way, demonstrative of how they filter the genre through their own particular lens. The song saw the quartet singing in unison with beautifully crafted harmonies over stripped-back cajon beats before coming in with fiery guitar licks. The guys happily shared the spotlight they have so gratefully grabbed by pulling a fan from the crowd to lead the chorus; she belted it excellently before drifting back into the fray in a state of elation. The fun was contagious, as crowd members hoisted each other up onto shoulders, threw articles of clothing in the air, and popped open umbrellas.

The guys kept the natal pride burning while slowing things down with an instrumental composition called “The Road to Ballyshannon”, inspired by a beautiful moment of presence on a sunset road trip. It was a tender moment of sincerity amidst the rowdy irreverence. The gentle strumming picked up into a spirited trot, then flowed back down in waves before gaining momentum again into a fever pitch with fingers flying, like the climax of a short film’s score. The boys then picked things up again, shaking off the sentimentality with more rousing tunes that highlighted how the entire band is really one big rhythm section, but of course non more than Lango, who continued to punish the wooden box between his tattooed thighs. It never failed to amaze just how much sound could come out of the thing, working seamlessly with a rigged-up symbol kick and a tambourine on the ground in front.

In a rare lull in the roar of the crowd near the end of the set, the band wasted no time razzing us for falling asleep on them, taunting while asking again and again if we had any cheers left in the tank. As if doing something outlandish enough to wake us up, guitarist Dock swiftly mounted the wall of speakers on stage, positioning himself halfway to the ceiling as he scrubbed out heavy riffs. The soundwaves emanating out were tangible in the room.

It was sad to hear the end drawing nearer, but no less sweet hearing the anthemic intro of The Scratch’s recent single “Another Round”, the mother of all drinking songs. Lango refused to start the song properly until the crowd’s “ahh ahh ahhhhs” were at a volume to his liking. The song slapped and there wasn’t a still body in the room. No one would dare defy Jordo’s commanding shouts of “Come on!” as he egged everyone to give it their all for the last romp with “Pull Your Jocks Up”. It was an unforgettable performance with unbelievable energy, and it was utter rhapsody as the crowd spilled out onto the street for a dart, buzzing about the show. Be sure not to miss them next time they make the trip over from the big smoke. 

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