In life, so they say, there are two certainties, death and taxes. Christmas time in Dublin bares some of its own trademark bankers. The lights on Grafton Street; two-for-a-fiver toblerones, wrapping paper and Calvin boxers on Henry Street, a double week on the scratcher, Hansard crooning on Gratfton Street and a Damien Dempsey gig at Vicar Street.
Thursday night is the first of a three-night stint for Damo at one of the capital’s most intimate venues. The crowd is slow to arrive. This close to Christmas there are friends to be met, bosses to swerve and pints to be savoured all around the city. There’s a celebratory atmosphere building as the venue slowly fills up. Intermittent chants of ‘Damo, Damo, Damo’ go up long before there’s any sign of him appearing. The communal sense of positivity in the room almost ensures a good night will be had before a note is even played.
The lights go down, the band come on, they leather into the frantic opening chords of The Rocky Road before Damo storms out to the lip of the stage like it’s a ring he’s just knocked his opponent out in. The Dubliners’ cover is delivered with a hefty dose of passionate aggression, an exhilarating, chest-beating start to proceedings as well as a benchmark for what’s to follow.
The opening chords of every song are greeted with cheers. The crowd often jumps the gun, singing along before Damo gets a chance to, such is the enthusiasm for the Donaghmeade native’s back catalogue. Songs like Sing All Our Cares Away, It’s All Good and Negative Vibes spark emotive recitals from the crowd. Damo delivers on his promise of “the sing along of the century”. He suggests he may be slightly under the weather but there isn’t a hint of it in his performance.
Damo’s band is in scintillating form, effortlessly jumping between the various musical genres the material straddles. Traditional, rock, reggae, traditional-rock-reggae they’ve got it all covered. As the evening starts to draw to a close and the odd top is peeled off and swung like a lasso around the venue the swelling sense of community is palpable.
One thing that stands out on the night is the intensity with which Dempsey delivers his performance. Full throttle, foot to the floor throughout, as honest and direct as his songs. It’s one of those nights where even the hairs that are falling out of your head stand up. The autumn of many a scalp temporarily arrested by an artist who wears his influences with pride yet manages to remain completely unique himself.