David Keenan at Whelans Dublin, 6 January 2018

The stage was dressed in a poetic aesthetic. There were carpets and lamps, waistcoats draped over the speakers and lyrics hung like bunting. There were novels stacked on a tiny desk marking the centre of the stage with a large naked bulb glowing with a vintage filament.

David Keenan walked straight onto the stage from one of his pictures in a collarless shirt and braces, matching the glaring brand that pervades his merchandise ranging from limited edition demos of ‘Strip Me Bare, Vol.1’ to mugs. 

The audience were orderly and punctual. The queue turned heads on Wexford Street. There was a sense of ceremony on the night as a young boy’s dream was actualised. Are you with me Whelan’s?’’ They certainly were. The seeds of hysteria planting themselves in conversations heard through toilet cubicle doors. 

“There’s always one toilet out of order, typical”

“And in the ladies too, typical”

“Do you know him?”

“Yeah I photograph gigs and I’ve done a few of his”

“So have you met him?”

“Yeah a few times, I can introduce you later if you like”

What makes a good performance? The lilt of his voice. The meticulous marriage of lyrical composition and delivery. The punch of a word and the whisper of a sentence drawing the eyes and ears in all directions, captivated by the stories he sang. He lamented his inability to pay his rent from poetry and prose. He took us to a bike shed in Dundalk as a young teenager. As he played, the hysteria grew. 

“Take your top off”

“Calm down Miriam”

The flickering windows of Snapchat and Instagram were briefly extinguished and at the very least called to attention by Stephen Murphy. The night was orchestrated to be a showcase of truth. Junior Brother seasoned the gig with a sharp, raw flavour. Harry Hoban and the Brothers Kane embodied the spirit of the Summer of Love with a full, embracing sound.

Keenan played the first half alone. His dynamic use of rhythm and melody on the guitar woven with his cutting vocal and animal delivery captured most elements of a full band. The introduction of keyboard, drums, guitar and bass as well as a brief duo of acoustic guitars was a rising sea of impact, opening further and further into a resonant field of sound.

All voices on the night brought with them stories of a new and an old Ireland. We are two people. One that sees deeply into ourselves and has a quiet understanding and we are the wounded child, looking outward for validation.

A night of music and song, like this, has the power to bring us back to the flowing spring of truth that bubbles beneath our surface if we let it. Let us hope that Keenan keeps his feet on the ground in the coming years so that we might continue to journey to this place together.