Richard Hawley in Vicar Street, Dublin, on October 30th 2015
Imagine you meet a new partner. She (let’s just use the female pronoun for the sake of exposition) is everything you thought you wanted from a partner: she’s beautiful, graceful, smart (if you’re into that type of thing) and you seem to get on really well. She’s perfect.
But then perfect becomes a problem. You soon realise she has no flaws: no insecurities, no annoying habits, no blemishes seen by you but hidden from the rest of the world, no surprises. Everything seems just that bit too polished, too rehearsed, too sanitised. The problem with perfection is that it’s very hard to love.
And that’s the problem with Richard Hawley in Vicar Street on Friday night. With his slicked hair and creaseless double-denim, Hawley starts out with Which Way, all sinister, jangly keys and sense of foreboding.
From there, through Tonight the Streets are Ours and the biblical Standing at the Sky’s Edge there are a few common traits. Firstly the songs are very impressive. Hawley is a very talented architect of a song, from lyrics to tempo to mood, and his back catalogue could probably support a show of double this length (nearly two hours as it stands) without hitting a real lull.
Secondly, they are all performed immaculately. They are recreated brilliantly from the recordings with a few additional flourishes – a solo here, an additional pause there – to make the live experience something different.
All the while though, they don’t sound like they have been crafted here. Don’t get it wrong, there is no doubt that the sounds are coming across as they are being performed, but there is nothing about them to suggest that they have been tailored to this audience. There is nothing which says “Dublin” about this show.
There is nothing – not a gelled hair, not a chink of light, not a note – out of place. And it makes it all seem cold and preordained. It’s a nagging feeling that never lets up during the show. In fact, as the show progresses, it only gets worse.
During Down in the Woods for example, Hawley breaks to add a bar or two from Teddy Bears Picnic and Row Your Boat, in exactly the same way he did last time he played Vicar Street in 2012. He then follows that up with exactly the same joke about being on acid three years before he breaks into Don’t Stare at the Sun.
He stands on stage with notes on a stand in front of him. As the show goes on you begin to question if it’s in fact a full script complete with stage directions and suggested body movements.
The only moments where it less than perfect are when he fails to reach some of the high notes on Tuesday PM and when he breaks a string on Heart of Oak. These flaws, if anything, add more to the show than error-free renditions would have done. There is something humanising, something fragile, something loveable about these flaws that the show as a whole lacks.
Ultimately, there is almost nothing to dislike about the show. It’s refined to infinitesimal precision. It’s nigh on perfect. But it’s a finish up, wipe down, move on to the next town sort of perfect. It’s no doubt the same sort of perfect that played out in Cambridge, Birmingham or Leeds on this tour. It’s a mint conditioned, never out of the box sort of perfect and that’s the sort of perfect that is easy to appreciate but is hard to love.