David Keenan at Whelan’s Dublin, 11 January 2019

It’s the first of two sold-out shows for the hotly tipped David Keenan. Keenan appears solo on stage to a packed Whelan’s, declaring ”All we have is this here tonight” urging the audience to leave their fears at the door and express themselves.

The varying dynamics of his vocal tone and temperament is something to behold. The dramatic and expressive peaks and troughs showcase his story-telling finesse and beguile the audience, so much so, that only silence can be heard between verses.

The Dundalk wordsmith is joined later on stage by Gareth Quinn Redmond on fiddle and soon after a folky congregation of Junior Brother, and Laura Quirke and Claire Kinsella of Lemoncello. Now consisting of a five-piece acoustic band, the beautiful booming harmonies between Quirke and Keenan and the fervent fiddle playing of Redmond take things up a notch. While the bellows of on-stage camaraderie feed the audience’s fire. Vigorously raised hands pop up like wack-a-moles for their favourite lyrics and popular choruses shake the walls of the building. The largest cheer comes when introducing The Friary – the first song he ever wrote.

This crescendoing live set doesn’t let up and when the encore finds Keenan accompanied by a new band of familiar Irish musicians, including Gavin Glass and Graham Hopkins (The Frames). The addition of electric guitars and drums lift proceedings further, particularly on veteran track Good Old Days which delights the howling crowd. The electric instruments give a wider, louder sound and the set chugs along earnestly, without ever diluting the nuance of the Keenan’s vocal performance. Clutching a candle-lit wine bottle he repeats: “Have you ever been off your head on alter wine?” as he leans off stage, into the crowd he’s so effortlessly shepherded into the palm of his hand.

Introducing the final song of the night, Subliminal Dublinia, written about the Irish housing crisis, Keenan declares “We need to fight back the waves of apathy”. This is as raucous as it gets, with every hand in the building raised for the extended sing-along outro. The lyrics “occupy the city with original ideas” repeat until the conductor Keenan calls a halt and raises his candle-lit bottle for the final time to say: “carry the flame.”