010714-Tinarwen-newTinariwen at the National Concert Hall, July 1st.

For one night only, Tinariwen brought their distinct brand of desert blues to Dublin’s National Concert Hall. As the lights go down and they file on to the stage, Fender amps arrayed in front of a simple black backdrop, the six musicians set up the slow building groove of opening song Tinde. With its layers of vocals and interlocking claps laid over a beat from percussionist Said Ag Ayad, it serves to set the scene for the evening.

As they take up their instruments for Nazagh Ejbal, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni steps forward to sing, the shifting sounds of the guitars layered over the clapped rhythms, the sound really starts to open up. Those characteristic shifting textures call to mind images of wide open spaces – Tifawit, with its rock solid bass groove put down by Eyadou Ag Leche, brings up the tempo as Alhassane Ag Touhami dances his way to the front of the stage.

They might have a reputation as serious poets of the desert, but they know how to please a crowd. Tin Ilhan, from their newest record Emmaar, is a stomping rocker of a song – with Sadam Iyad Imarhan taking over vocal duties, his intense, snaking guitar lines build over the pulse of Ag Leche’s bass.

Lone percussionist Said Ag Ayad, armed with only two drums and a tambourine, manages to coax a seemingly endless array of subtle sounds from his instruments – on Toumas Tincha, as he stomps on the tambourine, he kicks up a fierce beat.Things only get livelier from here – as Ag Leche steps forward to take a bass solo during Arawan, Ag Touhami leads the crowd in keeping the beat, dancing all the while. Ag Leche picks up on the moves on Timadrit in Sahara – what start out as little hops from the inscrutable bassist turn into a kind of a jig, Ag Touhami egging [him on.

Tiwiyen closes out the set – a raucous, foot-stomping tune, the tempo builds as Ag Touhami’s dancing gets wilder. As it closes with a bang, they earn a standing ovation from the house as they leave the stage. Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni takes the stage alone with his acoustic guitar for the first of two encore songs.

Warnila Wartila is a gentle, haunting tune, Ag Alhousseyni’s vocal punctuated by his softly picked guitar lines. As he comes to the end, he is re-joined for one last time by the rest. As they file out one by one, each picks up on the tune as it shifts into Achraybone, a final blast of Saharan blues to bring the night to its end. They leave the crowd on their feet, wanting more from these masters of the desert blues.