Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
30th September 2022
The Coronas make up for lost time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire with a celebratory 21-song set big on new tracks that are every bit as rousing as their classics.
The Covid-19 pandemic was tough on The Coronas. A six-month world tour was cancelled, shutting their main revenue stream in an instant. The release of their album True Love Waits was delayed by a few months, with limited promotional opportunities available. And the only real way to keep the creative spirit alive during lockdowns was to write even more new songs, even if it wasn’t clear when anybody would actually get to hear them performed live.
Admittedly the band’s experience wasn’t too different from every other musician on the planet, with one notable exception. Nobody else shared a name with the virus that shut down everything, points out singer Danny O’Reilly at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight. But this is no pity party. Delayed by two and a half years, this feels much more like a long-delayed reunion.
It’s the kind of gig where there’s a real sense of communion, like those very first shows after venues reopened last year; where the singer walks through the masses, even making his way up to the balcony. It’s the kind of gig where everyone’s encouraged to fist bump and compliment the person next to them. (“Nice cap,” is all I can muster, clearly having lived in London too long.)
It’s the kind of gig where, if O’Reilly — or the entire band for that matter — stops for a few bars, the crowd step in, unprompted, without missing a beat. It’s the kind of gig where huge chants of “olé, olé, olé” break out during the brief moments of silence from the stage. According to the man with the nice cap, if The Coronas were playing in their native Ireland, the fans would be twice as loud and behaving as if “Bon Jovi or someone” were performing.
The comparison’s a little off — musically The Coronas have more in common with, say, Snow Patrol or The Killers than the guys who gave us Livin’ On A Prayer — but does point to the bond between the band and their audience. At the heart of that relationship, and tonight’s shared ecstasy, is the actual songs, which seemingly get better and better. The band appear to agree: instead of relying on the greatest hits from the first five albums, their set at Shepherd’s Bush Empire is stuffed with material from that 2020 LP pushed back by the pandemic and the forthcoming one featuring those songs written during the lockdowns.
Don’t You Say You’re In Love and Strive (both from Time Stopped, out on 7th October), confidently open the show with O’Reilly’s waving, pointing, Footloose-style dance steps, and obvious charisma not at all diluted by his keyboard playing. Simultaneously, both songs introduce The Coronas’ bigger live sound. For their first tour without founding guitarist Dave McPhillips, the core OG trio of O’Reilly, bass guitarist Graham Know, and drummer Conor Egan have bolstered their live line-up with Róisín O (keys and vocals), All Tvvins’ Lar Kaye (guitar), True Tides frontman Cian MacSweeny (saxophone and vocals), and Dave O’Keeffe (trumpet and vocals).
The results are as epic and rousing as you’d expect from a band whose epic and rousing songs sell out arenas back home. Of the classics, Addicted To Progress (big on The Edge-style guitar), The Long Way (dedicated to those who’ve travelled far to be here tonight), San Diego Song (a masterclass in loud-quiet dynamics and crowd engagement), What A Love (performed as a stratospheric duet with Róisín O), and Just Like That (a joyous finale) are standouts in a 21-song set that makes up for lost time.
The newer songs, which edge the band slightly further towards keyboards, easily hold their own: At Least We’ll Always Have LA thrives on unbridled optimism; after a quiet start Find The Water simply can’t be stopped; LA At Night is a lighter (or mobile phone torch) anthem in waiting; If You Let Me builds slowly to one of those impossibly uplifting choruses Coldplay once specialised in; and Write Our Own Soundtrack has little trouble keeping up with the other heavy hitters saved for an encore that’s greeted with as much enthusiasm as, say, Bon Jovi playing You Give Love a Bad Name in a New Jersey nightclub.
When O’Reilly declares “this is where we’re at our happiest” earlier in the show, he’s clearly not just speaking for The Coronas.