WHEN former My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero announced a UK headline tour last year with his latest project Frnkiero andthe Cellabration there was a collective squeal of excitement from his UK fans, and a whimper of disappointment from those on this side of the Irish Sea.
Happily, on the back of his appearance at Reading and Leeds Festivals this year he set that wrong to right by setting aside time to visit Belfast and Dublin. With the first Belfast date selling out in minutes, a second date was inevitable, with Iero graciously giving up his day off to accommodate.
And so, September 1st, 2015 – forever known as 'Frank Iero Day' to his adoring fans in Belfast – dawned bright and, rather astonishingly, dry, as said fans gathered in Castlecourt shopping centre to watch as Iero and two of his band played a hastily arranged acoustic set in Head Records, with some queueing since the centre opened at 9am
Joining the queue we soon found ourselves in the novel position of talking to some Scottish fans who had travelled over for all three gigs – it's usually the other way around for Belfast music fans, right?!
At (sort of) 3 o'clock the shutters finally went up and the 150 or so people lucky enough to get a ticket squeezed into the tiny shop, to be met with an unforgettable if slightly incongruous sight: the man himself squished into the display window of Head, eventually standing so more people could see him.
It seemed to come as quite a surprise to him that the place was so packed, judging by the widened eyes and "holy shit!" that fell from his lips when he turned around. Playing a jaunty cover of The Ramones 'Rockaway Beach' to warm up really piqued the fans' excitement – they got a round of applause for simply tuning their instruments!
Finally turning to address the crowd, Iero greets everyone, confesses that the guitars are rented (!) and tells us that there's no microphones ("so don't talk haha"), before dedicating first song 'She's the Prettiest Girl At the Party, and She Can Prove It With a Solid Right Hook' to loved ones. The song itself sounds unexpectedly tender and yearning in acoustic form, with Iero singing in a higher key to match the softer style.
He plays standing side on with his eyes closed in a manner that long time fans have come to recognise. It's the only time he seems in any was bashful, however; when speaking to the audience he is warm, kind and even playful. This is a far more relaxed Frank Iero than in the dying days of MCR.
'Tragician' is next, which has a rather folky, troubadour vibe to it in this format – it's almost like watching a really talented busker at times. Before the last song he asks if everyone is going to the gig tonight, and expresses his sorrow to a girl at the front who missed out on a ticket. But wait! Another girl further back has a spare ticket, so they arrange to meet up to pass it on. It's a lovely moment which has Iero beaming with approval.
He wraps up with clear crowd favourite 'Joyriding', with its intriguing mix of jaunty music and deeply personal lyrics. The mainly young girls in the crowd partly overcome their shyness to participate in a rather timid singalong, which is rather sweet. And then it's all over bar the queueing (again), this time for an autograph. Iero is gracious and friendly, staying until every last fan has received a hello and a coveted signature, even though time is creeping rapidly towards his gig at Bar Sub. A true gentleman.
Seven pm, and essentially the same crowd as earlier is out the front of Bar Sub in Queen's student union. Most were here last night, several will travel to Dublin for the last show of this Irish tour.
By the time local noisemakers Axis Of hit the stage at 7.45pm, the bijou room is pretty damn full and almost unbearably hot. Such is the fervour of the audience that they welcome the band with teen-screamy appreciation and palpable excitement.
They play a half hour set of perky, upbeat rock, with guitarist Niall and bassist Ewen trading lead vocal duties and harmonising breezily. It's infectious and toe-tapping stuff, with jaunty guitar solos and multiple hand-clappy segments. Ewen in particular holds the crowd in the palm of hand effortlessly, with some witty crowd interaction.
Set highlight is the singalong monster 'All My Bones', a real stomper of a number with 'crowd pleaser' written all over it. They have a quirky vibe to them, reminiscent of Biffy Clyro or Twin Atlantic, and like those bands they sing in their local accent, which is refreshing and instantly likeable.
With the crowd nicely warmed up there's an impatient 45 minute wait until 9pm, when the house lights suddenly dim and a thrilled scream goes up. The Cellabration appear onstage, followed by Iero. He steps up to the mike, utters the words "hello friends" - and the place explodes as they launch into 'All I Want Is Nothing', to which the crowd sings along ecstatically.
The entire set is crammed with bounce, verve and energy; this is the exuberant Frank from the early days of MCR and even Pencey Prep. Apart from his ingrained habit of singing with his eyes closed, he is warm and enthusiastic, addressing the crowd often and delighting them all by saying how glad he is to finally be in Belfast.
Roaring through tracks from the band's debut album '.stomachaches.', he dedicates 'Joyriding' to the fans and whips out Leathermouth's 'Sunsets Are For Muggings', as well as a rambunctious cover of The Ramones 'Rockaway Beach' (definitely not acoustic this time!), and the band's first ever song they wrote (an instrumental) to commemorate them hitting their first anniversary a few days prior.
This is Frank Iero at his punk rock best: screaming, flailing about the stage melded to his guitar, uttering searingly personal lyrics with fire and passion. The audience simply lap it up, singing along with almost evangelical devotion and leaping around like they're on pogo sticks. The bulk of them know every last word and nuance of the often awkward yet effortlessly catchy songs. Iero acknowledges their support, urging everyone to "stay real" and looking genuinely chuffed at the response he's getting.
Highlights? Too many to mention, but the rough and tumble of 'Weighted' gets the crowd really bouncing, whilst heartfelt final number 'Stage 4 Fear Of Trying', featuring Iero standing onstage with just his guitar, had several girls weeping quietly at the maudlin beauty of it. Sigh...
And so 'Frank Iero Day' ended in Belfast, leaving behind a trail of streaked eyeliner and sweaty, contented fans in its wake. Based on the ecstatic response to this visit, it's not unreasonable to hope that Mr Iero comes back soon in the form of whichever project that this prolific and talented musician chooses. That truly would be cause for 'Cellabration'...
Review by Melanie Brehaut
All I Want Is Nothing
This Song Is a Curse
Sunsets Are For Muggings (Leathermouth song)
Rockaway Beach (Ramones cover)
She's the Prettiest Girl At the Party, and She Can Prove It With a Solid Right Hook
Where Do We Belong? Anywhere But Here
Stage 4 Fear of Trying