For the first time in close to three months the almost unfamiliar sight of a cloudy sky hangs over Dublin, throngs of short-sleeves and shorts snake unconcerned up and down Harcourt Street towards the open mouth of the Iveagh Gardens.
The Southside location is fast becoming one of the city’s best venues, a combination of vastness and the intimacy provided by a dipped crater creating a natural amphitheatre makes it one of the most unique venues in the city. Tonight it plays host to Damien Dempsey.
Admittedly, the powerful stretch of unprecedented weather lends an even more joyous atmosphere to the evening before a note is even played. Dusk isn’t the only thing turning up late this evening as throngs of stragglers trickle in to a rousing rendition of Negative Vibes.
Damo is ferocious from the opening bell, laying down the gauntlet with the proclamation “Anyone who doesn’t sing can get out!!”. There are no audible objections, a choir of thousands is born.
Rather than just tread water and give the people what he knows they want Dempsey is intent on mixing things up this evening. His commanding stage presence and the ease with which he interacts with and controls the crowd mean that whichever direction he takes this evening the crowd willingly follow.
As Damo introduces some traditional Irish music with gusto, his incredibly accomplished band delightfully obliges. For the briefest moment there’s a barely recognisable hint of guilt-free national pride swimming in the air.
No sooner had the band kicked into overdrive with the jiggin’ an’ reelin’ had they been shooed off for an unaccompanied version of Mickey The Bags. It’s a traditional track covered on ‘The Rocky Road’, his homage to the music he’s become a beacon of. At most gigs a rarer album track is an opportunity to use the loo, hit the bar, figure out who’s been smoking that weed but tonight this tale of a treacherous and deadly love triangle played out a hundred years ago on Dublin’s cobble stoned streets is a highlight.
Colony is an epic opus detailing the history of Ireland, the problems and hardships we’ve faced and emerged from. While songs like Chris and Stevie and Sing All Our Cares Away go into the minutiae of the social stigmatisms that exist here today.
There’s a realistic bleakness to much of Dempsey’s output but in the live setting no matter how dark the depths he explores there’s an overriding feeling of defiant optimism. A kind of ‘we may be creaking, but we’ll never crack’ two fingered salute to the tribulations of modern Ireland.
Dempsey graciously tips his hat to his influences on the night with airings of Rocky Road, The Sickbed of Chuchulan and House of Pain’s Jump Around, strange but cosy bedfellows. Factories, one of the few great contemporary folk songs, Irish or otherwise, is greeted with rousing cheers by swaying groups stitched together at the limbs.
The evening draws to a close to It’s All Good’s refrain of “Love yourself today. Okay? Okay?” A message, request even, reinforced by the previous couple of hour’s performance.
Another triumphant night in Dublin for Damo.