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Nero, Whelan's, Dublin, 2nd January

Nero were greeted like returning heroes by the home crowd tonight and it must be said that they seemed very happy with the fact that 130 people braved the cold, the wet and the hangovers to come see them. Two days into the New Year is generally not a great time to play a gig, as most people are broke or else just plain tired. That didn't hinder this impromptu performance though, but, then again, those here tonight all had one thing in common. They all shared a secret; and that secret is Nero. There aren't many bands who could draw a crowd like this considering they've spent the past year and a half touring the States and their debut album still in production.

First up, though, was Joe Walsh. A familiar face on the Dublin pub scene, he can usually be seen brandishing his acoustic guitar on a Sunday night in TP Smith's. Tonight, though, on a bigger stage than he's used to and backed up by a full electric band, things went a little differently. Blessed with a voice akin to Kelly Jones from The Stereophonics and able to write heart-felt songs, he soon won over the crowd. Newer tracks like 'Carousel' and 'RWA' were greeted warmly, while the more familiar ones ('Inner-Mind Landslide' and 'Foreign Feet') took on a whole new shape in the proper live setting. A few songs in and Joe clearly lost all inhibitions, rocking out by the drum kit with his acoustic guitar, his distinct, emotive voice tying everything together. Proof that not all singer-songwriters have to be boring balladeers.

From the moment Nero struck their first chord, I was amazed. I haven't been this blown away by a new band in a very long time. They've got a sound like nobody else at the moment, acting as a powerful alternative to the bland. Imagine Radiohead rocking harder than they ever have, add some Turn, mix with a bit of Tom Petty and you're getting kind of close. 'This is not an exit' really got the band into the mood, before 'Remember when' nodded in with a mad bass rumble and pounding tribal drumming.

New song 'Community' was delivered with neck-vein-popping sincerity, while the drum kit descended into a mess of wild curly hair and sticks. 'Watch the sky' was again given a precision, vocal attack, before Joe was called back out on stage to sing 'This life of mine'. It's a slow burning number backed by a marching beat, on which the two contrasting vocal styles worked excellently. Their time in America really seems have really paid off. It's seen them grow into a more confident band, one with fire in its belly. Keep your eyes out for Nero, looking likely to be one of this year's biggest bands, it'll be hard to keep them a secret for much longer.

Ken McGrath.

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