For They I Love’s self-titled debut was an album to be made. Dublin producer and songwriter David Balfe’s gut-wrenching but arresting record was created after his childhood and musical partner Paul Curran took his own life in 2018 – pushing him to reflect on life, love, loss and friendship as well as the pride of the streets and the people who shaped who they were.
It was not an album made to change units or turn Balfe into an arena-filled house name — it was born of emotional compulsion. Its exclusion from the Mercury Prize shortlist was criminal, but it’s out of town; The point is, you should expect a rare, raw and clichéd live experience from FTIL. And tonight, at the first of two intimate sold-out shows at the Courtyard Theater in Shoreditch, he gives us something no one else can.
- READ MORE: For They I Love – The Dublin artist tackles grief and politics with the respect they deserve
The setup is sparse Balfe, a microphone and a projector. The stage is strewn with flowers just before he arrives at the tender tones of Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It feels like an awakening, and the set that follows is an appropriate tribute.
Opening with the spacious ‘I Have A Love’, Balfe leads us through a subtle danceable exorcism of his memories, the eternal place in his heart for his friends and “the space where we learned to be brave ”. It’s an intense experience, especially in the collective rave hidden to the collapse of ‘You Stayed To Live’, or when he loses himself in shouting “Don’t ask me: Am I the next one?” while wrapping the microphone table around himself for comfort.
At one point, with his back to the audience, the artist stands staring at recordings of himself and Curran, who live it up as teenage teve roads and play in hardcore bands together. He feels everything, but we feel welcome to be allowed in, especially during the abandonment shared in the more dancing moments of ‘You Live / No One Like You’s Mount Kimbie-esque darktronica and hypnotic closer to’ Leave Me Not Love ‘giver’praise to my best comrades”.
“Thank you so much London for coming,” he tells the crowd. “I really appreciate it. Please celebrate your loved ones ”. That’s what we all take away from this show. It can be removed, but Balfe really could not give more. Given the album’s inspiration, you’re wondering if we’ll get another For They I Love album with more shows or maybe festival sets. Who knows? Everything we have is right now, and tonight it’s all that matters.
For those I love played:
‘I have a love’
‘You became / lived’
‘The myth / I do not’
‘The shape of you’
‘Birthday / the pain’
‘You live / no one like you’
‘Leave Me Not Love’