Bobby Womack at Dakota on September 26th 2013-14-banner

Arthur’s Day in Dakota, Dublin on Thursday 26th of September 2013

Dakota Bar on Dublin’s South William Street has plenty of positives going for it, but being a good venue for live music is not of them. The main room is long and narrow – with a bar running the length one side and a row of supporting pillars running up the centre of the room. The temporary stage setup for Arthur’s Day was wedged between these pillars and some over-large banks of speakers at one end of this thin room, meaning that almost nobody had a good view of the stage.

As 17.59 rolled around a half-full Dakota half-heartedly raised a glass “To Arthur,” and once this was out of the way it wasn’t mentioned again.  The conversation was on something else, the mystery of who was in fact playing in this venue.

While last year’s secret of which headline acts were playing where was well out of the bag by the day itself, the 2013 allocation of acts was still subject to wild speculation at 6 pm.

When MC Rick O’Shea took to the stage to announce the first act it seemed like he couldn’t contain his excitement any longer. But then it’s not every day you get to announce Bobby Womack.

The soul legend was the epitome of cool as he made his entrance. He may be pushing 70 and not in the best of health, but as he took the mic, casually sporting sunglasses in a dimly lit bar, Womack looked untouchable. When he let rip on the first silky “Ooooh” of Across 110th Street it was clear that something special was about to happen.

His voice was charged with a lifetime of pain and heartache while at the same time dripping undeniable charisma. As he charmed his way through Harry Hippie and Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out Womack dragged each note up from the depths of his soul and launched them out across the venue.

Womack may have made it look easy, but as the set wore on hints started to creep in that it was anything but. Womack has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and needs to rely on a monitor at the front of the stage to ensure he remembers his lyrics. When he introduced The Bravest Man in the Universe, from this 2012 album of the same name, Womack thanked the album’s co-producer, but struggled to recall his name. “I wrote this song with Damon… Osbourne,” said Womack, referring to Damon Albarn. It was the one and only slip in an otherwise faultless show.

By the end of the show Womack took a seat as he sang, but still managed to push himself to even greater vocal heights for It’s All Over Now.

When told he only had five minutes left, Womack took a cool look at the prompter through his sunglasses. Then he shot the audience a mischievous smile. “Five minutes,” he intoned. “I’m goin need a whole lot longer than that… to make loooove,” before launching into Lookin’ for A Love.

There wasn’t really any following a performance like that, but Irish indie-rockers Bouts gave it their best shot.

The band were already on their second gig of the night, having just come from playing in the Odeon, but this didn’t rob their set of any of its maniac energy. The guitarists broke into frantic bouts of head banging on the solos, which had all the appearance of chaotic improvising but was far too tight to be anything but rehearsed to absolute precision. It may all have been too much, especially for the crowd they were playing to, but there is no denying that Bouts know a thing or two about putting on a good show.

Their vibrant sense of fun and personality came out on their final number, Turn Away, with the lead singer and bassist climbing the barrier and diving into the crowd as the final guitar wail reverberated through the room. Even if the majority of the audience weren’t really there for them, Bouts threw everything they had into firing them up.

The problem was that their rocking set felt like a bit too much of a radical change of tone. And maybe because of this, or maybe because of the distance of most of the crowd from the stage, they never really captured the attention of most of the venue. Neither were they helped by some very uneven sound quality, another glaring fault of a venue not typically used for live music.

When Rick O’Shea appeared again to introduce the final act, the venue was buzzing with anticipation. Maybe the headliner wasn’t such a well-kept secret after all.

Emeli Sandé breezed her way on stage with a graceful elegance, flanked by a support band in uniform black outfits, and the crowd roared in excitement and shuffled towards the stage as Sandé kicked off with Heaven.

The diminutive songstress may have paled a little in comparison to Womack’s earlier performance, but her brand of catchy yet soulful pop was certainly crowd-pleasing. All at once Dakota seemed filled way over capacity, with people climbing chairs and tables to get a better picture on their camera phones. The crowd surged and heaved, with a mass of people struggling to inch their way as close to the ill-placed stage as possible.

And Sandé played on, feeding on the energy of the venue as she danced around the stage, as carefree as somebody singing to themselves in the comfort of their own home. She took things down a notch for a tender rendition of Breaking the Law, before springing into such belters as My Kind of Love and Beneath Your Beautiful.

The audience may have been impressed, but there was still the lingering sensation that this was a support act going on after the headliner. Following Womack’s performance proved to be a little too much for Sandé. For all her tight showmanship, she never even came close to injecting the same levels of emotion into her music as Womack.

She closed the show with the sing-along inducing duo of Wonder and Next to Me. If the emotional kick was lacking, Sandé made up for inducing a simple joyful euphoria.

In retrospect, the order of the acts seemed as badly handled as the choice of venue. But as the night in Dakota came to an end, Arthur’s Day seemed to be about something else entirely. Not a music event in the strictest sense, but more of a party. A wild, jubilant night where the drink was flowing and the good times were rolling, and the music was more of a soundtrack rather than the main focus.

Arthur’s Day at Dakota Photo Gallery

Photos: Shaun Neary