The 1975 might have been billed as the main event at Bushmills Live 2014, but it was Tired Pony who stole the show at the intimate old whiskey distillery.

Tired Pony

Fine drizzle swirled through the air as a select group of 700 competition winners funnelled their way through the entrance to the Bushmills Live festival.

But with free whiskey, free food and an enticing line-up ahead, the lucky few who had been granted admission to the exclusive festival showed no sign of letting the weather dampen their spirits.

For those who like to see their bands up close and personal, away from the dazzling lights and enormous expanses that stereotypical festival and arena shows frequently serve up, the intimacy provided by the two small stages within the oak-barrelled distillery did not disappoint.

As the whiskey began to flow, Rubblebucket, a Brooklyn-based 7 piece, made their European festival debut, bringing their unique blend of synth, horns, and guitar to the stage, creating a genre-melding carnival atmosphere amongst the sizeable crowd they had attracted.

As the Rubblebucket party drew to a close with their trumpet player dancing joyously through the crowd, attentions turned to Northern-Irish indie-rock quartet Levity Breaks.

For those who dashed through the rain to the still room, Bushmills' second stage, Levity Breaks served up an anthemic sound perhaps more suited to filling large arenas.  For all their endeavour, the band failed to illicit the same levels of adulation that Rubblebucket had before, with 'Broken Hands' proving to be the highlight of their short set.

What followed in Luke Sital Singh was something of a masterclass in contrasting elegant and gentle moments with bouts of impassioned melodrama. Without any accompaniment, Luke Sital Singh's set was perfectly suited to his intimate surroundings, mesmerising those gathered before him with a combination of acrobatic vocals and sparse guitar.

The most rapturous reaction, however, was saved for when he was joined by Tired Pony's Iain Archer on stage for a superb rendition of 'Nothing Stays The Same'; the first time they had ever performed the song together live.

Back over in the Cooperage, Matthew And The Atlas offered up his magnificently textured brand of atmospheric folk.  Although playing to a small crowd at first, as punters made their way over from Luke Sital Singh's set in the Still Room, he triumphed in front of an expanding crowd with a captivating set that started well and simply got better.

Taking up the evening slots and sandwiched between Tired Pony and The 1975, James Vincent McMorrow and David C Clements drew respectable crowds, although, without any sustained breaks between bands' set times, many chose to take advantage of the free whiskey and food available, enjoying the opportunity to relax outside as the rain tapered off in the late afternoon.

Playing at 17:55 and 20:30 respectively, it was Tired Pony and The 1975 who were the real big hitters on the Bushmills line up.

Gary Lightbody has earlier joked that the crowd could expect close up-hand magic from Tired Pony's live show, but throughout their set it was a different kind of magic that filled the room.

That Tired Pony drew the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the day was not surprising, especially as the set marked a homecoming for Lightbody, something he recognised by taking to the stage and declaring: "It's awesome to be home".

Perhaps inspired by the adulation of the crowd, Tired Pony went on to deliver the most exhilarating set of the day playing songs from from both their debut album 'The Place We Ran From' and sophomore effort 'The Ghost Of The Mountain' to a hero's welcome.

With a virtually note-perfect performance that lasted for just under an hour, Tired Pony's star studded line up, which included Peter Buck on guitar and Robert Colburn on drums, delighted the crowd, with Lightbody taking time to accept balloons and a gift to mark the 20th anniversary of Snow Patrol from some members of the crowd.

When Tired Pony left the stage at 18:45, it looked to be incomprehensible that anyone would be able to match, never mind exceed, the showmanship they displayed and the huge adoration they had received.

So it was that at 20:30 it fell to headliners The 1975 to bring Bushmills Live 2014 to a fitting finale.  It was a feat they couldn't quite manage.

It would be unfair to say that The 1975 gave a poor performance.  Having flown in from Ibiza on the day of the gig you could have forgiven the band for turning in a jaded performance. Instead, The 1975 brought an infectious energy to the stage with a fully committed performance that also showcased what a tight live band the young indie upstarts are.

But despite their bluster and posturing, it was hard to escape the fact that The 1975 simply didn't seem to ignite the crowd to the extent that you'd expect a great headline act would.

Maybe the crowd at Bushmills just aren't the same crowd that The 1975 appeal to, but the fact that the Manchester 4 piece only had one album to draw from was also to their detriment.

'Chocolate' got the crowd moving, as did recent single 'Girls', while 'Robbers' was another set highlight. As the band closed with a blistering rendition of 'Sex' they looked every part the headline act that everybody had hoped for.

Yet while there was plenty to admire about the performance The 1975 gave, it was impossible to ignore the lukewarm reception many of their album tracks received. This was something which was further highlighted by the gradual thinning of the large crowd who had assembled for the start of their performance. While the crowd at the close of their set was not small, it was noticeably diminished.

As The 1975 left the stage, a jubilant day of music and whiskey where up and coming stars had shone brightly was drawn to a close. Amongst the departing crowds, however, all the talk was about Tired Pony's show-stopping set.

Alex Wignall

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