The moment you set foot from Kilkenny’s John Street into the Set Theatre, you could sense the anticipation and excitement of what the night would bring. Friends became reacquainted, couples laughed at the unbridled joy of being out of the house, and everyone was excited to be present to experience one of the most captivating live acts currently strutting their stuff in venues across the country.
“I was wondering why this was feeling different” Saint Sister’s Gemma Doherty noted midway through the show, “I’ve only just realised this is our first indoor show in over a year”.
And what a show it was. From the start, Doherty and fellow Northern Irelander Morgana Macintyre weaved beautiful melodies across a multitude of stripped-down tracks from their sophomore album ‘Where I Should End’, which was released in June of this year.
Surrounding the duo as they played were three ferns, each divided by a single bulb propped up by a long, dark lamp. Scattered across the floor were vines, which found themselves curled across the microphone stands and causing the fairy lights on the floor around it to emit a beautiful shade of juniper.
Throughout the set, as tracks ebbed and flowed through highs and lows, the bulbs would brighten as certain songs reached their crescendo; as though the power of the voices was pushing it to its very limit, filled with joy unmatched. This effect, as well as the looped harp percussion used throughout the show created a beautiful sense of build-up and suspense which can often be lost without the support of added instrumentation. It was breathtaking to watch; and even more beautiful to hear.
Saint Sister’s performance opened with a heartfelt rendition of My Beautiful Friend. Without a word, they went into the second song of the night, Dynamite. Throughout their 70 minute set; the duo’s vocals ooze in and out of focus in total unison; as though by one.
From tracks such as Call Me Druid, about the grass always being greener following an abandoned sojourn to Madrid, to The Place That I Work about a chance meeting with long-lost friends; Saint Sister’s ability to find the heart of each and every song is unparalleled. Between tracks, the duo would recount tales of the song’s origins, including a particularly gruesome story from Macintyre about a dream she had about her body rotting apart at the altar with her (now) fiancé that formed the basis of Corpses.
While everything was completely in sync throughout the show, and it was the moments of spontaneity that really brought the song alive. Be it the public tug of war going on between artist and sound engineer over the ideal vocal volume or the repeat re-tuning of the harp that came with the tricky temperature of the room; it offered another reminder of the multitude of perfect imperfections that create live music.
After transitioning to the piano for a brief 4-song section midway through the show; the performance came to a close with a moving acapella version of Morning Air, a track exploring the emotions around an unplanned pregnancy and travelling overseas to have it terminated.
Followed by the mesmeric Karaoke Song; which transitioned into a brief, looped harp solo before both performers walked offstage. Despite coming back for a two-track encore, it was a fitting end to a wonderful night. The harp, standing high above the crowd, taking centre stage where it deserved. Doherty’s mastery of the instrument is what continually pushes Saint Sister to even greater heights. It’s exciting to imagine the direction they go next.
Whatever direction they decide to go, there will always be people willing to listen. Ears through which to craft rich tapestries of sound. As the final notes of the evenings encore, Bruce Springsteen’s Can’t Stop The Fire, a room full of people felt a little lighter than when they entered. The world seemed a better place after such an exquisite evening. Welcome back music.