For Those I Love’s self-titled debut was an album that needed to be made. Dublin producer and songwriter David Balfe’s gut-wrenching but arresting record came to be 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 in the streets and the people who shaped who they were.
It wasn’t an album made to shift units or make Balfe an arena-filling household name – it was born of emotional compulsion. Its exclusion from the Mercury Prize shortlist was criminal, but that’s by the by; the point is, you ought to expect a rare, raw and cliche-free live experience from FTIL. And tonight, at the first of two intimate sold out shows at the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch, he gives us something that no one else can.
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The set-up is sparse – just Balfe, a mic, and a projector. The stage is strewn with flowers just before he arrives to the tender tones of Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It feels like a wake, and the set that follows is a fitting tribute.
Opening with the spacious ‘I Have A Love’, Balfe leads us through a subtly 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 saved for the breakdown in ‘You Stayed To Live’, or as he loses himself in yelling “Don’t ask me: Am I next?” while wrapping the mic table around himself for comfort.
At one point, with his back turned to the audience, the artist stands gazing at footage of himself and Curran living it up as teenage tearaways and playing in hardcore bands together. He feels everything, but we feel welcome to be allowed in, especially during the abandon shared in the dancier moments of ‘You Live/No One Like You’s Mount Kimbie-esque darktronica, and hypnotic closer of ‘Leave Me Not Love’ giving “praise to my best mates”.
“Thank you very much London for coming,” he tells the crowd. “I deeply, deeply appreciate it. Please celebrate your loved ones”. That’s what we all take away from this show. It may be stripped back, but Balfe really couldn’t give any more. Given the inspiration of the record, you wonder if we’ll get another For Those I Love record, with more shows or maybe festival sets. Who knows? All we have is right now, and tonight that’s all that matters.
For Those I Love played:
‘I Have a Love’
‘You Stayed / To Live’
‘The Myth / I Don’t’
‘The Shape of You’
‘Birthday / The Pain’
‘You Live / No One Like You’
‘Leave Me Not Love’