It’s the same and yet brand new. I scan the Kino and see the faces I’ve seen at gigs across the city for the last four years. We’re here for what will be the last Pretty Happy gig for the foreseeable future. It comes with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Excitement for what is, for many, one of the first live gigs since lockdown, and apprehension as to how to enjoy a gig within these new parameters of safety and distance.
I can allow myself some sentimentality and admit that I’m scared for the gig to start. Because once it starts, it will have to end. Arann Blake (vocals, bass guitar), Abbey Blake (guitar) and Andy Killian (drums) have crafted a distinct sound over the last few years.
But start it does, and dramatically so. The trio emerge from the back of the venue. Abbey leads, followed by Andy dragging Arann, or ‘Péig’, shrouded in a fitted bed sheet up onto the stage. A voice sweeps over the Kino: “Ladies and gentlemen, Pretty Happy. And be happy tonight!” The lights turn red and the band launch into a dissonant cover of Sinatra’s ‘All of Me’. It sets the mood for the rest of the gig. What might be familiar ideas or feelings, under the gaze of Pretty Happy, can take on a simultaneously sinister and satirical energy.
The rest of their set is a testament to their enthusiasm and innovation. Their setlist has us bopping heads and tapping feet from the confines of our (designated) seats. Classics like ‘Mr Crabs’ and new songs like ‘Sea Sea Sea’ are delivered with such energy that they sound positively verdant. Interspersed are short skits, each one again taking the analytical and the absurd in equal measure, in what Arann half-jokingly calls ‘art-punk’. My favourite was ‘Fintan O’Toole’, where the titular Fintan, played by Andy, finds his suburban dreamscape unravelling into what is, in reality, a self-imagined nightmare.
Though they cannot physically move within and around the tables, the banter between the band and the audience is smooth. Nothing is lost in communication. It’s also important to give credit to the crew at the Kino, who manned a tight ship on the night. Safety and social distancing were possible without feeling clinical or severe. Smooth sound and lighting ensured that the atmosphere in the Kino was warm and vibrant.
It is a long-awaited delight to see Pretty Happy dazzle against the velvet. A friend said something that resonated with me: When some bands go on stage, you can tell they’re just waiting until they can get off again. With Pretty Happy it’s the complete opposite. Their dedication to their craft, their hard work, these things signal them as one of the most exciting and electric bands to have graced the stages of Cork in recent years.
It’s not an emotional event per se. Pretty Happy play with such enthusiasm that the gig doesn’t feel aged or fatigued. Their stage presence is too vibrant to give the sense that they are finished. And they’re not. Whether it’s a few months or a few years until we see them live again, their legacy as a brilliant live act and a group of intelligent, creative musicians will live on.