Largely dilapidated for several decades, the former Royal Opera House in Valletta has been a subject of controversy for as long as most of us can remember.

The latest (and possibly briefest, at least for now) controversy was that sparked off fairly recently by one Mario Vella. Irked by the terms put to him when he tried to book the Pjazza Teatru Rjal, as the venue is now known, for his band’s end-of-summer performance, Vella promptly posted an announcement that the proposed gig was cancelled, openly naming and shaming each and every reason behind his decision.

Fortunately for the band, and not least, its loyal fan base, this particular issue was resolved rather expeditiously, and the concert was held last week, with newcomers Fastidju playing a brief opening set and Brikkuni delivering the goods in their own inimitable style.

With most of the theatre’s 900 seats occupied on the night, one surmises that, despite being open air, despite its weather-related restric­tions, it remains an amazing venue with tons of character and ambiance. The latter could possibly be improved further if those responsible invest more money and bring in a better lighting rig.

Nevertheless, there’s something absolutely extraordinary about the place, and getting to watch a concert such as the one put on by Brikkuni and Fastidju there made it all the more special. But enough about the theatre now, and on with the music, which started slightly later than usual due to some technical hitches with the visual projections.

As Fastidju came on, they looked a bit lost on the rather large stage, but only until the opening strains of Torqod Ukoll, following which they seemed to find their footing. This being the band’s debut live performance, nobody really had any idea of what to expect. Indeed, even those who (myself included) had heard the songs posted on the band’s Soundcloud page were caught by surprise as the songs presented on the night were weightier and certainly far more imposing than the recorded versions.

Without a doubt, the need to put together a band – featuring some of the more significant musicians from the local indie scene, no less – instigated quite a radical transformation in Fastidju’s songs; one which (judging from all the post-gig banter at least) struck a chord with a good chunk of the audience.

All in all, this was possibly one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year – great sound, amazing venue and a double helping of authentic Maltese music that we need more of

Regardless of the fact that they had to leave out opening number Il-Gratitudni tas-Sabiħ, Fastidju’s performance succeeded in making a lasting impression in the space of just five numbers; three of them sung in Maltese, the remainder in English.

Eluding any particular categorisation, the songs performed span a wide stretch of the musical spectrum, albeit one largely rooted left of centre, somewhere in between post-punk and indie rock but with an open-ended quality that could go anywhere really.

Frontman Nigel Baldacchino (whose brainchild this band is) isn’t quite the singer (and some coaching would definitely help) but he certainly is a vocalist who knows when to flex his vocal chords when he needs to. This was a great debut for the newcomers, and I expect their next gig to draw quite a crowd on its own steam.

After a riveting last number (Kukkużejt) from Fastidju, it was time for the main act to take the stage. This they did with an instrumental intro that spilled over into L-Assedju ż-Żgħir, confirming that tonight’s performance would feature the best of Brikkuni’s two acclaimed albums to date.

The words Pezza Kwistjoni emblazoned on Vella’s shirt were also clear portents that he would be making full use of the microphone, and not just to sing, although I’m sure this would have been the case anyway, even without the shirt. After all, it wouldn’t be Vella if he hadn’t now, would it?

It is a strong set that the band offered up – punctuated by the more punchy numbers that bring out the best aspects of Brikkuni’s attention to detail. The live setting may not necessarily cover all the nuances present on the albums, but it’s clear that every effort was made to get as close to them as possible.

There’s no denying that songs like Fil-Bar, Il-Gadazz Ġiljan and Ċikku ċ-Ċinkwina will always prompt a bigger reaction from Brikkuni’s audience, but on this particular evening, it is their rendition of the poignantly outstanding Tiddi x-Xemx fuq din l-Għodwa Moħlija that truly captured the essence of what it is that Brikkuni are aspiring to achieve.

A quick glimpse of the audience reveals an interesting mix of people; a variety of age groups, people from different walks of life and indeed different musical genres that thankfully seem to have shed most of those misguided souls who used to turn up only to revel in the novel use of the vernacular in Brikkuni’s songs. I also sensed there were a good number of first-timers present; a sensation I later reaffirmed after spotting certain people’s reactions to the notorious sing-along chorus of Fil-Gallinar tas-Sultan, for example.

Something else I noticed was the restlessness that those who have been to Brikkuni gigs before experienced, particularly during the more upbeat numbers. Being seated does offer a different experience of Brikkuni’s music, the chance to absorb more of the songs in the same way one does when listening to them in private, but with the added benefit of the live atmosphere also present.

The pent-up energy was finally unleashed when the band played its encore, Kontra Kollox, inviting the audience to stand up and move closer to the stage, thereby rounding off a great performance with that familiar rowdiness that a Brikkuni gig is guaranteed to bring on.

All in all, this was possibly one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year – great sound, amazing venue and a double helping of authentic Maltese music that we need more of. If you were there, you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you weren’t, be sure not to miss the next one.

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