One day during Covid lockdown, so the story goes, Noah Kahan casually unveiled the opening verse of a new track online. At the time a modestly successful singer-songwriter considering giving up the game and moving on, he posted, set down his phone, and went to bed. By the morning, his clip, which opened “as you promised me that I was more than all the miles combined” (and finished before the words “season of the sticks” were uttered at all) had gone wildly viral.
A few years later and his career looks very, very different. Of course, after his Covid moment, the first task was to finish off the now pervasive ‘Stick Season’, which he did wildly well, creating the most infectious of folk-leaning pop ditties. The infectious songwriting moments weren’t to end in a hurry: there was plenty more where that came from. With the show now firmly on the road, Kahan lives off sentiment and poetry: beautiful lyrics set to heart-stirring music, presented simply.
And if tonight is one thing above all others, it’s the most effective form of simple. His stage set up is little more than a few abstract shapes on a large screen and a couple of risers. His songs carry their own weight, heaped with poetic depth, and the young audience here absolutely lap it up, screaming with recognition even for the lesser known album tracks, and singing along boisterously throughout.
In hindsight, of course, fans will claim that there were many fine moments before that big hit, they simply lay waiting to be uncovered, but it’s the album of the same name that provides the set’s core. Early on we’re treated to what feels like a crowd-praising ‘All My Love’, and when minor hit ‘No Complaints’ comes along, Kahan switches in a quick apology in the line “got a paper and a pen, we are not in the UK” – a reference to an unfortunate error on a piece of tour merchandise that draws plenty of cheers.
The stage presence here is effortlessly charming. Kahan is an instantly likeable figure, one prepared to own his own nerves and occasional lack of self confidence, acting a little daft at times and pausing to talk more seriously at others. There are references to how uncertain of himself he was in his early years, a laugh at how out of place he felt at the recent Grammys, and a couple of different nods to mental health and the importance of communities.
His style, should you only be familiar with the big hit, is perhaps a little heftier than you might expect. It’s heavily vocally-led and riddled with whopping great crescendos, the obvious touch points being the likes of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and Young The Giant, its core strength the deeply personal storytelling. The light breaks in Kahan’s voice lend his sound a sense of being heavy with feeling.
The second biggest song, arguably, is ‘Northern Attitude’, a track that on the album features Hozier, but tonight enjoys the briefest of appearances from local hero Dermot Kennedy to deliver one of the later verses.
It’s a lovely touch in a gig that’s aesthetically minimalist and sometimes a touch one-paced, but never short of the sense that Kahan is speaking his truth, and in the way of a songwriter that has learnt that by revealing the personal he touches on the universal. With the set building nicely from the Kennedy moment forwards, he serves up new single ‘Forever’ and pre big-time nod ‘False Confidence’, both of which play off both Kahan’s sense of romance and a seemingly delicate sense of self.
In ‘Dial Drunk’ he has a beautifully witty aside, and in closer ‘Homesick’, another toned down nod to where his heart lies, back in Vermont. The only moan we can have, really, is that as an artist who’s early in his career on this level, Kahan leans heavily on that admittedly strong lyrical side, and his set sometimes feels like it lacks the more subtle pace changes a truly outstanding act might deliver across a 90 minute plus performance.
Of course, there’s only ever going to be one biggest moment here, and it’s nothing short of euphoric when ‘Stick Season’ is dropped at the heart of his encore. Beautiful as the single is – and it is, though it’s one of those tracks that might have people rolling their eyes through sheer volume of airplay before too long – it’s given further depth by an audience that are nothing short of besotted.
A few years ago Noah Kahan would have been lucky to get a gig in Dublin at all. Tonight, it feels like the 3Arena could be twice the size it is and he’d still have no trouble holding the place in the palm of his hand, and like there isn’t a track from his three records Kahan could perform that wouldn’t result in a sing-along. When his message is so beautifully presented and smartly written, and generates such passion, who are we to argue.