Lisa Hannigan at Whelan’s, Dublin, on July 7th 2017
As Lisa Hannigan steps out onto the stage at a sold-out Whelan’s, it appears as if she is in a trance. An organ sets the scene for the chilling Barton, a track which closed out her 2016 album ‘At Swim’ but here starts off proceedings. Not only does it set the tone for the show it also showcases Hannigan’s stunning vocal range. She has the ability to captivate a room with her voice and as the song progresses the pre-gig chatter quickly peters out.
When she performs her persona is in complete contrast to her shy but bubbly personality when she’s interacting with the crowd. That’s what makes her such an intriguing performer, you get to see a different side to her when she’s onstage. It’s not all about her, though, as her band is on song the whole night as the gig swiftly changes tone and style. Overall, it’s an eclectic set with a mix of material from her three studio albums.
Undertow really showcases the evolution of her sound, as a more traditional folk sound is infused with some more modern elements. It subtly shifts gears and moves things away from a melancholy opening. At the end of the song she gets back at her bandmates for teasing her, since she had to learn a part of the song backwards for the video. She challenges them to do the same, but needless to say it gets the best of them. No matter how earnest some of her songs may be, she always keeps things light and playful on the night.
If there is a weak point during the set it’s when the band goes offstage and leaves Hannigan by herself. It’s not the fact that it’s just her but more the songs she chooses to play. Passenger gets a great reception from the audience as they sing along to every word, but from there the stripped-back part of the set seems to lose the audience. She invites some support up for Anahorish which is sung acappela, but even that seems to lose some of the momentum. Luckily, the rest of her set is strong enough to make up for this slight misstep.
It’s not that hard for her to recover, though, since the second half of the set contains some of her best songs. The crowd is more involved as well and she’s even impressed, saying after one song “If you want to have a sing-along come to Dublin!” It’s not all sing-alongs, though, as there are some songs that are impressive sonically. Ora creates a wonderful soundscape that envelops the room and is easily one of the highlights of the night. This time around instead of the crowd participating, they just watch and listen as the song reaches its climax.
Despite incorporating modern elements into her music you really get the sense that Hannigan is a folk singer at heart. She even pays tribute to one of the greats during the encore with a cover of Tom Waits’ Martha. It’s a beautiful rendition and she truly makes the song her own. She finishes things off with the infectious Knots which really brings the house down. It caps of a show which showcases the essence of what Lisa Hannigan is: a truly original artist and a performer that is in her element when she’s onstage.