It can be a little daunting to go and watch a group debuting their first album in seven years.
Particularly when the chief songwriter has been suffering from an unwarranted period of self-doubt, and you’re not quite sure what direction he may heading.
You’re praying hard he’ll pull a Lennon with Double Fantasy. Though you’re nervous as a kitten he’ll turn up with John and Yoko: The Wedding Album.
Within seconds, however, there are no doubts. From the very off at their intimate, tour-opening gig at the Forum, Snow Patrol take control with the confidence of champions marching to their next great win.
Not strutting, mind. Calm and assured; a team content that their captain is back to full pace after a career-threatening injury.
And the best bit is that the new songs – even though Derry only got to hear five of them – are entirely where the game is at.
For the first few numbers, all from the classic vaults, it’s like Gary Lightbody has never been away. Youthful and playful. Sardonic and bulletproof.
Then they launch into ‘Empress’, from the new album ‘Wildness’, and you suddenly realise there’s a depth and width to Snow Patrol that you’d never noticed before. There’s a bigger sound too, bordering on epic without ever lapsing into bombast.
‘Heal Me’, a few songs on and the next piece of new work, is introduced by the singer as being a tribute to ‘somebody who has saved my life on a number of occasions’. And you sense that the nascent pathos, alluded to in Snow Patrol’s earlier catalogue, has become a lot more real.
The Forum favourite is of course, ‘I Think of Home’, dedicated by Lightbody to his late grandmother Rebecca: “I remember trips to Derry/On the old car’s freezing seats/And I know Fountain Street in Winter/My Grandma’s laugh the greatest noise.”
The song masquerades as a simple piece of nostalgia, lamenting a broken country and ‘the punched-out teeth of Irish history’, before revealing itself as a piece so transcendental it could sit untouched in Astral Weeks or Death of a Naturalist.
And then, just when you thought everything was going so well, something heartbreaking, yet unexpectedly beautiful, happens.
Lightbody, now solo on stage, begins the preamble into ‘Don’t Give In’, attempting to dedicate it to his great friend and favourite lyricist, Scott Hutchinson, whose death by suicide has just been confirmed hours before.
But the awful reality of it is too much. And for a few seconds he stalls, and he starts to weep. And he is no longer the performer but instead a vulnerable young man, who has walked a mile in the same shoes; a pane of glass you fear could shatter.
But, with that, guitarist Nathan Connolly comes back onto the stage, wraps his friend in a hug and kisses him on the cheek, to nothing short of thunder from the crowd. And within a heartbeat, the singer seems to remember that, with love like this in his life, it is right, so very right, to fight on. And he is back.
That song will possibly never have as much resonance as it did at the Forum – and anyone who witnessed it, and didn’t cry, is either a robot or a liar.
The rest of the concert is sublime; at turns mournful and sometimes joyous, but always uplifting.
New tracks ‘Life on Earth’ and ‘What if this is All the Love You Ever Get’ are showstoppers in their own right, timeless anthems, worth every day of the seven-year wait.
Visually, too it is a thrilling ride. The lighting show is nothing short of an indoor firestorm that sears right through to the back of the retinas.
And the spectacle is further enhanced by the presence of Johnny McDaid, now unarguably one of the world’s greatest producers, whose ability to double as both a musician and on-stage touchstone means the sound has never been more whole.
The overall result is an extraordinary regeneration; wiser, warmer and more wondrous; the start of something very special. It’s as if Friday at the Forum was merely the opening night of a soon-to-be giant opera, witnessed by just 900 or so lottery winners, before it graces stadiums all over the world.
The hometown heroes finish the night with ‘Just Say Yes’, which they gifted to Derry in 2010 for the successful City of Culture bid. And there isn’t a being leaving Newmarket Street without a smile on their face.
Appropriately, just a few hours after the gig ends, hundreds of thousands of people across Ireland get up to take part in early morning ‘Darkness into Light’ walks, to fundraise for groups targeting suicide and self-harm.
Gary Lightbody should know that his song, and his bravery at the Forum, will be no end of help to them and their noble cause.
Read the review at derrynow.com.