Most of us can't even believe we're here to witness this. The last notes of an ecstatic "Love In A Car" wind down and the four members of THE HOUSE OF LOVE tumble off the stage. They're soaked through with sweat and clearly emotional and the first thing an exhausted Guy Chadwick does is hug his mercurial lead guitarist Terry Bickers. Bearing in mind Bickers' violent exit from the band at the dawn of the 1990s, to view the previously warring factions indulging in such harmonious scenes seems hard to believe. Miracles, it seems, can clearly still take place in the Godless modern world.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The triumphant return to Irish shores of The House Of Love is the final act in what proves to be a full and exciting evening in itself. The prelude is provided by new trio DAE KIM, who include ex-members of respected indie outfit Ten Speed Racer in their midst and appear to be weaving intriguing new shapes in their own right.
Despite moaning about the apparent lack of soundcheck, theirs is a tightly meshed, FX'd guitar sound with sweet boy/girl harmonies and they save the best for last with "Shoot": a moody, bass-heavy crawl benefitting from the laptop textures their bearded guitarist gradually coaxes into the maelstrom. It's early days and unfamiliarity catches your reviewer short, but checking out their tracks on a new Sofa Records compilation (www.sofa.ie ) would seem the best move for now.
Hotly-tipped trio BLACKBUD are up next, and the buzz surrounding them in itself is almost enough to have you believing they are tonight's headliners. As he strides onstage with his long tresses flowing and his silk shirt loosely fastened, singer/ guitarist Joe Taylor embodies the youthful confidence this trio simply exude, and when they strike up, it's not hard to see why Blackbud wowed the new band tent at last year's Glastonbury.
It's a killer set. I'd never heard tunes like "Heart Beat" and "Steal Away" before, but I'm more than certain I'll remember them in the morning such are their yearning, self-assured choruses. Indeed, the trio barely put a foot wrong at all, with bassist Adam Newton probing and pushing into the spaces Taylor's guitar leaves and drummer Sam Nadel chipping in with expressive fills and nonchalent harmonies.
Even when it all gets a tad 'Spinal Tap' during the last number - when Taylor's guitar cuts out and he collides with his roadie as they both rush to restore the power - they shrug it off professionally and in terms of diversity they seem to have all bases covered from Coldplay chiming'n'yearning through to Hendrix flash'n'burn. This may not strictly be their crowd tonight, but make no mistake: Blackbud are stars in the making and their time is imminent.
Yet no matter how much of a run for their money the young pups give them, THE HOUSE OF LOVE prove tonight they are still a force to be reckoned with, no matter how much water may have run deep below the bridge.
Inevitably, much has been made of the return of prodigal lead guitarist Terry Bickers, but with The House Of Love picking up plaudits as the spurious 'Godfathers of Shoegaze' (fer Chrissakes), it seems that choosing this time to re-emerge is timely to say the least. Personally, I always thought linking the HOL's crystalline pop brilliance with such scenes was ludicrous and - even allowing for Bickers' voluminous FX rack - it was Guy Chadwick's magnificent songs and the band's alchemical presence that made them stand out the first time round.
And, incredible as this may seem, tonight it really seems like they've never been away. Sure, they're a little older (aren't we all?) and a few hairlines have started to surrender, but Guy's existential charisma remains intact and as a unit The House Of Love still make perfect sense in the 21st Century scheme of things.
It's anything but a nostalgia trip either. There's a new album in the can and we're treated to liberal helpings of it tonight. Indeed, it's indicative of the band's renewed sense of heart that they can dispense with the euphoric crunch of new single "Love You Too Much" so early on in the set and follow-up with the lovely, mellow "Maybe You Know", while the fractured, nagging guitars of "Wheels" is anything but outclassed by a seismic "Fisherman's Tale."
Naturally, Chadwick and Bickers are the centre of attention, but drummer Pete Evans and new bassist Matt Jury are equally crucial to the plot. For this writer, Evans was always the band's secret weapon, and his phenomenal dexterity on songs like "Fisherman's Tale" and the new "Kinda Love" has to be seen to be believed, while Jury may be the rookie, but he's a rock-solid tower of strength throughout, and his work on the newer songs like "Money And Time" brings a nimble, almost dub-like tendency the band never had in the old days.
Yet however important the rhythmic bedrock may be, it's the Chadwick-Bickers partnership that draws the attention like the proverbial moth to the flame. Your reviewer had expected the mercurial Bickers to exude a difficult, strung-out cool, but he's affable, matey and energised throughout, cracking asides and adding some sly bars of "Day Tripper" to a tremendous version of "The Beatles And The Stones." Hell, even Guy breaks into a smile on a regular basis, even though he's strugging with a throat infection, and they team up beautifully for the twin cam guitar thrills of bracing new songs like "Kit Carter" and wrap the older classics like "Christine" and the skeletally pretty "Love In A Car" in an inscrutable shroud of mystery.
At the end of the latter, a clearly emotional band troop, weary but exalted, off the stage and engage in that unexpected group hug. Which is of course where we came in. You'd expect the credits to roll there, but naturally they come back for "one more." We instead get three, including (obviously) "Shine On" and a gorgeously sad "Man To Child" where Guy's voice finally gives up the ghost, though by now everyone's choking back the emotion anyway. It's that kind of night.
"It's a deep blue sea, an impossible dream," swoons Chadwick during a beautifully-weighted version of debut album highlight "Hope." He sings it incredulously, like he can barely believe this is happening again. But it is. It's real, it's in our midst, and we can only pray this time there's a happy ending way off in the distance, because The House Of Love are back: still dreaming on, still truly special.