Maverick Sabre at Cyprus Avenue, Cork, 29th March 2019

Maverick Sabre (or Mav, as fans affectionately call him) is a powerful storyteller. Drawing on the narrative traditions of R&B, soul, and folk, his latest record ‘When I Wake Up’ is a compelling collection of songs navigating modern life in an increasingly tumultuous world. The universality of this narrative is no more apparent than at his sold-out show in Cork’s Cyprus Avenue – the opening night of his first tour in five years.

The set bravely opens with a vocal acapella, as Maverick struggles to reconcile his experience of organised religion with his own spirituality on Preach. Jazz piano and drums maintain this contemplative tone, and there is an immediate vulnerability that appears to endear Maverick to the crowd.

For the rest of the night, a significant portion of songs end with just Maverick and the crowd singing out a closing refrain. No band, no backing track; just an extended outro of dialogue between performer and observer. It’s a testament to Maverick’s charisma and vocal prowess.

He sips from a thermos in between songs, explaining “I’ve got the slightest bit of a cold, so you’re gonna have to be my Cork choir tonight”. The crowd accept this challenge with uproarious cheers, though it’s difficult to believe that Maverick’s voice could be working at anything less than peak capacity tonight.

The tone of the night flits seamlessly from personal to political to celebratory. Come Fly Away is deeply emotive – almost angry at times – as Maverick recounts longing to move past a period of hardship. Embracing his old school sensibility on single Into Nirvana, he tackles issues of lost youth and identity. “Big love Cork; it’s the first time we’ve ever performed that”, he smiles. A soulful medley of Khalid’s Location and Craig David’s Seven Days – dedicated to the lovers in the crowd – gets people dancing.

Returning for an encore to chants of “three more tunes!” (this crowd has wisened up) Maverick returns to the stage alone, and for the first time; with an instrument. However there appears to be a technical issue so Maverick – evidently a seasoned performer – launches into 2012 track Shooting The Stars until a tech returns with a now appropriately prepped acoustic guitar.

Here we get our first proper glimpse of Maverick’s rapping ability. There is a competency and comfort to the way Maverick performs Sometimes, which perhaps lay in the fact that this is a track he first wrote and performed as a teenager – now over a decade ago.

Set (and album) closer Glory is a change of pace. Hopeful and encouraging – “keep your head up, you’re coping” – its heartfelt delivery sidesteps any threat of cliché. With the feel of a traditional Irish singalong that the crowd eagerly embrace, it seems an appropriately uplifting note to bid farewell.