Kodaline at The 02, Dublin, 16th March 2014

There’s a certain romance to be found in Kodaline’s epic rise to the nub of the Irish music scene. Childhood friends from Swords, North Dublin, setting tongues wagging with a showcase performance at Dublin’s Sugar Club. Since then, the album ‘In A Perfect World’ seemingly stole a permanent corner of our airwaves, and achieved what so many of their more established peers have never managed in cracking the UK top five, too. That is despite not always having the backing of the critics behind it.

Life isn’t all about pleasing critics, though. In fact, selling out arenas and pleasing critics are often mutually exclusive, and while Kodaline might not be the most breathtakingly original of new acts, they are undoubtedly an intelligently crafted and finely polished one. Tonight leaves no doubt that the hub of the band is singer Stephen Garrigan. The engaging frontman is owner of an outstandingly powerful vocal, but also naturally possessed of that delicate key-change mid note, a lilt of a similar ilk to the charm that made X Factor’s lost star Janet Devlin so memorable. Tonight, while the ‘first arena headliner’ nerves are clearly evident, particularly in the slightly cringe-worthy between-song banter, Garrigan’s vocals never waver.

Unsurprisingly, early doors the set is largely about settling into a new scale of surroundings, with album tracks such as opener One Day and Pray laying down a solid basis. It’s a plodding start, but also one that’s teeming with emotion, both in the emo-tinge in Garrigan’s vocals and the vibrant pre-Paddy’s Day outpouring of impassioned support that accompanies even the less touted tracks.

Things really kick off with Love Like This. Pouring bucket-loads of feeling into the hook-laden chorus, Kodaline sound bigger, brasher and bulkier than times past, padding their sound with keyboard embellishments and sporadic drum asides. There’s further padding of the finest sort to be had later in the set, too, with the introduction of a cellist and a dozen or so of the Dublin Gospel Choir to layer a track or two. High Hopes needs no such treatment, with entire verses skipped over in true arena style, the audience belting the lines back with deafening joy.

There are bound to be lows, and it comes in the form of LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends which is clearly ill-suited to the band’s style. Dirty Auld Town – backed with an Irish flag across the back of the stage and delivered in shortened form – goes down a charm as a nod to St. Patricks Day, but that aside, there is a slight sense of filling time. Fortunately, it’s not one that lasts: the album’s here in its entirety, and its improved by the live setting, with Big Bad World and After The Fall in particular benefiting from the added depth.

The inevitable encore features the one that got away, The Answer. A track that didn’t quite make the album despite standing out as one of their most engaging, it falls slightly flat live, with a touch of its original delicacy lost to the scale of the show. Not to worry, as there’s only one way to finish.  The closing moments are topped with a massive, rock-out sing-along to All I Want, the track introduced to the mainstream by Fearne Cotton in the company of a gifted goldfish now doubtlessly at stadium anthem scale. It’s backlit by phone lights, building slowly into an extended whopper of a peak at the outro.

Having been there so near the start of this journey, it’s hard not to feel a touch emotional about where it’s all ended up. Despite their flaws – and an arena debut was always going to highlight a few – the boys from Swords first outing on quite this scale has been rammed full of hooks, skilfully delivered and riddled with moments to melt the odd soul. It’s already been a ride, but this still feels like a beginning.

Kodaline Photo Gallery

Photos: Shaun Neary

James Bay Photo Gallery

Gavin James Photo Gallery