Molly Sterling Upstairs in Whelan’s 22 March 2019
One by one, each band member takes to the stage. Cellist Laura McCabe takes her place stage right, anchoring her endpin while Colin Lyons and Enda Cahill take their places on drums and guitar respectively. As Molly Sterling stands to face a crowd warmed up by some chilled out tunes from INNRSPACE, there is a certain magic in the air.
Her nerves would almost go unnoticed if not for her frequent interjections of “Thanks so much, this is fuckin’ insane!” Nerves or not, there’s never a dull moment during the set. Sterling provides both banter and genuine humility between songs, ranging from shouting “Up Tipp is right” in response to another assumed Nenagh native in the crowd, to joking “lemme have a moment, I’m just a drama queen!”. Banter queen more like.
It’s surprising that this is her debut headliner, having first came on the radar at the tender age of 17 as Ireland’s Eurovision entry in 2015. Playing With Numbers was an unusually introspective song for Eurovision, and clearly she was robbed. Not that we’re still bitter or anything. Now 21, she has continued to carve a space for herself in the Irish scene, having made a string of successful festival appearances. It was about time that she had her first headline show, and what a show it was.
Sterling has a terrific knack for intimacy. When compounded with the candid nature of the chats between tracks, on stage is where she feels most at ease. Under the lowlight, the vibrato hangs in the air, adhering to the old adage ‘less is more’. Honed over the years, her delivery and mature sound makes for a powerful and raw performance.
Songwriting is a form of catharsis for Sterling, and she feels every word and vocalization more than anyone. ‘’My body is not a feast for eyes’’ she sings in Plain Static, standing over a keyboard adorned with “safe abortion” and ‘Dream Wife” stickers.
The emotional heft of each song is intensified by McCabe’s cello, as well as the powerful rhythm provided by Lyons and Cahill. It’s beautiful seeing how well they work together as a band with genuine chemistry especially on songs like Find Me A Row.
Strive Not To Be Doubted was dedicated as a thank you to those who helped her heal, followed by a powerful rendition of previous Plec Pick Dermot Kennedy’s For Island Fires And Family, endearingly called ‘Dermo’ on the setlist.
The crowd could’ve went home happy had it all culminated in her latest single Feeble, but instead Sterling returns for an encore of Funeral Pew, joined by Dublin’s own Nealo (Sterling and INNRSPACE both feature on Nealo’s latest single Just My Luck) before finally closing with Teepee.
It is hard to pinpoint an exact emotional peak, as both the songs themselves and the parts in between all meld into one amazing moment for Sterling, especially as it was shared with the other members of the band. She gushes about how lucky she is to have them and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. As they bow out wrapped arm in arm it turns out the magic in the air was the camaraderie between them, and that exact magic will carry them far.