After a year touring the world, Snow Patrol returned to Belfast on Sunday for two sold-out shows at the Waterfront Hall.
Intimate by their standards, the concerts were billed as an ‘Acoustic Christmas’. But with racks of guitars, keyboards, samplers and more cables than the City Hall Christmas lights, it couldn't have been much more plugged-in had they tried.
Still, at the matinee, frontman Gary Lightbody addressed the incongruity straight away, admitting, “It's not as acoustic as we let on”.
Promising a loose and relaxed vibe, he and keyboardist Johnny McDaid opened proceedings with the rarely heard compilation album track Dark Roman Wine. McDaid's organ offered atmospheric backing for Lightbody's earnest vocal and — by his own admission — “ridiculous” hand gestures.
With Lightbody and McDaid joined by lead guitarist Nathan Connolly, a slew of hits followed one after another. Chocolate, This Isn't Everything You Are, Called Out in the Dark and Open Your Eyes worked fine in the relatively stripped-down format, though Lightbody's solo, genuinely acoustic Take Back the City confirmed the loops, samples and backing vocals weren't strictly necessary.
Meanwhile, the crowd got their hard-fought admission's-worth out of singalongs on Run and Chasing Cars, often drowning out the band.
As it was a special show, there were special guests, most notably Tim Wheeler, who took centre-stage for the Ash hit Shining Light, and re-entered later on a version of the Undertones' Teenage Kicks, “the national anthem of the youth of Northern Ireland”, as Lightbody described it. The other cover song in the setlist was AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long, which was as ill-judged as it was excruciating. Gary Lightbody crooning lines like, “She told me to come, but I was already there,” was not what this reviewer wanted to hear.
Still, this mind-boggling misstep aside, Snow Patrol's Acoustic Christmas proved to be a more entertaining affair than might have been expected, even if the standing ovation seemed to be as much for Lightbody's announcement that the shows had raised an amazing £60,000 for children's charities — half of it donated by the band themselves — for the music. But there was no doubting the love the fans have for this band, and it appears to go both ways.