Dermot Kennedy at The Olympia Theatre, 23rd February 2018

Having played a multitude of smaller venues all over Ireland over the past 5 years, tonight is undoubtedly a special one for Dermot Kennedy. The tickets for this headline show in The Olympia sold out in minutes last year, an impressive feat for any artist. As seen in our Plec Picks 2018 article on the singer, Kennedy’s progression as an artist has been organic and gradual, a rarity in an industry saturated with A&R teams and managers who try to mould their acts.

Another one of our very own Plec Picks, David Keenan opens proceedings with his unique brand of indie-folk. With only a guitar as accompaniment, the 23-year old fills the large stage with spell-binding songs and an enigmatic performance. Keenan waves his head of unruly hair in time with the music during instrumental sections, and prances around the stage with confidence while subjecting the crowd to an unrelenting gaze. The satirical Rip Your Eyes From Your Phone is witty and up-tempo while the more gentle El Paso is a tender ode to a muse.

Kennedy’s live set-up has noticeably progressed from the days of his folk-orientated shows, with various synths and drum pads dotted across the stage. He walks on with three band members, each wearing a uniform of white t-shirts, and opens his set with An Evening I Will Not Forget.

Kennedy has a powerful, rasping voice that summons the attention of even the most prolific whispers at the back of the venue. The songs are a hybrid of folk and electronica, with subtle percussive soundscapes over acoustic undertones. The band play sympathetically to Kennedy throughout the show; the arrangements are cleverly crafted so as to allow the vocal to be the salient feature of the songs. The set is composed of mostly new material, with a few nods to some older songs which Kennedy performs solo.

Kennedy is an exquisite song-writer, each song is laced with poetic and colourful lyrics. Shelter is particularly poignant, “so step inside, the night is cold, it doesn’t deserve such a smile”. A Closeness has an infectious groove but that doesn’t distract from the lyrics “she’s keeping her bright eyes focussed on the coastline waiting for you / Isn’t she all of us pining for that last kiss, a permanent truth, a means to get through.”

In between songs, Kennedy is reserved, careful contemplation seems to go into each sentence before he speaks it. He gives a detailed backstory about each songs’ narrative before he plays them, the care and thought put into each one is evident. Glory, which he wrote last January while in Toronto, is one of the strongest of the set in terms of its translation into a live setting. The new, forthcoming single Young and Free also goes down very well, which is always a sure indication that it will see success once released. The song rises and falls in all the right places, with punchy choruses and mellow verses.

All My Friends and Boston are both songs about acknowledging your close friends and family, and how the importance of these relationships is emphasised when times get tough. The former features a lengthy outro, with the audience chiming in for an acapella rendition of the hook “you won’t go lonely yet.” There is a certain comfort in hearing a room of 1400 people singing such a tender line in unison, a sense of solidarity lingers in the air.

Having come from modest beginnings, it was humbling to witness Kennedy play his biggest show yet. The journey from playing smaller gigs such as The Ruby Sessions to selling out The Olympia has been a long and arduous one, Kennedy’s success is a testament to his resilience and perseverance. There is no doubt that he is paving the way for the new generation of Irish singer-songwriters, and that he is one of our most promising exports into the international music industry.