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O Emperor at Whelan’s on 21st June 2013

The longest day of year signalled a return to the capital for O Emperor. A humid evening had a large expectant crowd in Whelan’s to witness how the material from their new album ‘Vitreous’ would perform against their more established songs from ‘Hither Tither’. Setting the tone for the evening were support act Tandem Felix who produced a polished display showcasing their atmospheric songs from the ‘Popcorn’ EP.

For a band that tours a new album it’s always a large question mark of how the material will go down especially as the fans may not be overly familiar with it. Arranging the set list is paramount. The more well-known songs need to be interspersed frequently to ensure the audience are not alienated while at the same time breaking the new tunes in.

This lesson wasn’t lost on O Emperor who began their set with one of their signature songs Don Quixote. Having not played the capital in quite some time, it was like being introduced to a long-lost friend. The first test of the new songs was the duo of Grandmother Mountain, Holy Fool and Whitener (Part 1). O Emperor have evolved from the more expansive seventies rock of Crosby, Stills and Nash to a new woozy psychedelic sound. Imagine Jeff Lynne fronting Sgt Pepper era Beatles. Sedelia gets an extended frenetic musical wig out, while Taloned Air gradually builds to its epic conclusion.

The second half of the set contained arguably the best performances of the evening with the wonderfully atmospheric Minuet and Land Of The Living garnering applause from the crowd. The set list for the most part was on the money but finishing on the admittedly excellent but down tempo This Is It after the robust Po and stomping Contact was a bit of an anti-climax. The encore of Soft In The Head and Electric Tongue as a duo of songs didn’t seem to fit together and it would have been better suited being substituted into the main set of two of their counterparts.  

One thing that sticks out was a lack of a connection with the audience. At times it felt a bit too nonchalant. For the most part this return of O Emperor was a success. Philip Christie’s vocal performance throughout was particularly strong and the playing was tighter than Simon Cowell’s belt. The new songs from ‘Vitreous’ not only stood their ground but were arguably the strongest of the night. This emperor’s new clothes fit just fine.

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Photos: Aisling Finn