Even by the standards of music Ireland is pumping out these days, the bill for And So I Watch You From Afar's first gig of 2013 is mouthwatering, featuring two bands I've been enjoying on record for a while: both Dublin-based, at polar opposites of the musical spectrum, but complementing each other wonderfully. The night starts with the spacious music of Spies, who have been beavering away on new material for the last while, and have chosen tonight to unveil some of it, which is good news for me, as I missed their gig with Last Days of 1984 back in November. It all sounds very promising, but their set is a little on the short side, there and gone in 20 minutes. Their immediacy makes up for the brevity of the set, however, and I'm sure they departed later that night with a number of new fans. The same can surely be said of the grunge/post-punk onslaught of Girl Band. (There are no girls in the band, by the way.) Promoting their recently-released (ish) EP France 98, the band blitz through their set whilst balanced precariously between bracing melody and debilitating noise. It all goes down well with the crowd, however, and the set closer (a cover of Blawan's 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?' is electrifying.

ASIWYFA's support acts seem to embody both sides of their aesthetic: Spies represent their more melodic and insistent side, while Girl Band stand for their abrasive tendencies. It's been interesting to see those two sides of the band collide on stage before, but the focus is not on their live show tonight so much as it is the new material we've been told to expect. Every single person packed into the near-400-capacity venue knows they are going to rip the place apart, as their gigs are more a force of nature than anything else. All Hail Bright Futures doesn't arrive until mid-March, and half of the Belfast quartet's third album gets an airing tonight. All 5 songs go down a treat, especially rip-roaring lead single 'Like a Mouse' and the three-part behemoth that is 'The Stay Golden', the latter of which acts as a microcosm of the band's 'new' sound, which seems to be a combination of the more experimental route they went down on Gangs and a desire to write more succinct songs. They're certainly in the mood to take risks, though the Celtic-tinged 'Ambulance' proves that they can bring the RAWK when they need to.

The setlist is more or less an even split between old and new. Once the band have treated the sold-out crowd to some new material at what we later learn will be their only Irish gig until the album arrives on March 15th, they crack on with the old stuff, and '7 Billion People All Alive at Once' ignites a sing-along, before 'D is for Django the Bastard', well, ignites the crowd. There's barely room to swing a cat, so the moshing, pushing and generally going apeshit to the heavier parts of the band's songs was always going to be a good idea in a confined space. Not. Despite being unable to get as involved as some of them would like, the older songs go down a storm, and the band close out the main set with the familiar trio of 'BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION', 'Gangs' and 'Search:Party:Animal'. They regularly opened their shows on the most recent tour with these, but they work just as well towards the end of the set. 'Search:Party:Animal', in particular, creates bedlam.

It's touching to see the band have such an intimate connection with their fans. Maybe it's just that the stage they're on is just barely big enough for the four of them, but there are a number of times tonight that de facto frontman Rory Friers seems genuinely lost for words at the reception he and his band receive. He wonders how he can make his praise sound sincere ("Belfast, you know, it's another world... but this feels like home to us"), but there's no question that he means all of it. He later declares tonight's gig one of the best they've ever played, after a quick encore break and a version of 'Set Guitars to Kill' that threatens to reduce the venue to rubble, before the band end the night with a triumphant rendition of 'Don't Waste Time Doing Things You Hate'. In the midst of all this, he's admitted that the band 'aren't exactly match fit' ("This is our first gig in about six months"), but on the strength of this performance, the world at large should be trembling, because an ASIWYFA gig with the band at full fitness should be extraordinary. Roll on the next set of gigs, and the album release - their future's looking very bright indeed.