Review by Dave Sheehan
“You can sit and stare at a person’s face for like two hours before it becomes boring, but it becomes impolite way before that”. Vermont native Sam Amidon’s reads from his latest creative adventure, a compendium of his tweets between 2009 and 2011 entitled “Notes on the Twitter-ographer”. As he reads, multi-instrumentalist Chris Vatalaro accompanies his waxing with some piano playing, an effect not unlike that previously done by Josh Groban with Kanye West’s tweets. This literary interlude, unusual in itself, would be out of place anywhere but at one of Amidon’s gigs. Previous interactions at his Irish gigs include Sam attempting to play 943 Irish fiddle tunes in under 10 minutes. Already during tonight’s show at the cosy Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, he has taken a break from playing to do push ups and taken an extended free jazz solo during one of his contemporary versions of folk songs. When you attend a Sam Amidon show, ‘normality’ is an unfamiliar concept.
Cavan-born Lisa O’Neill is the first to take the stage, a homely setup featuring a grand piano, a minimalist two-piece drum kit (labeled with ‘DELO’, seemingly borrowed from Delorentos in advance of their show tomorrow), and an assortment of small trees, plants and candles in lanterns. From the moment she takes the stage in a plain blue dress, O’Neill slowly but surely gains the approval of the audience with her countrywoman confidence, humour and songs about the minutiae of life. She begins It’s Still Milk with a back story of her previous employment as a waitress in a famous Grafton Street coffee shop and her dealings with rude customers. These patrons made their order while enthralled in a phone conversation, yet had the audacity to question her if she got the order right. Her version of karma was to punish their ignorance and lack of decency in some way, such as, by using full-fat milk in a skinny latte – “It’s still milk / it still comes from a cow / Cow is what I call you”. This lyric, sung in highly accented Irish brogue, is typical of Lisa who wins the crowd through her coy sense of humour and charm. “This song is about a fella I met in bed”, she straight-faced delivers before kicking into Musehead. The unassuming O’Neill finishes the set with a tribute to her uncle Niely who unfortunately passed away shortly after she returned from a previous tour of the States, the stage lights casting a reddish tint to the stage to accompany the somber mood.
After a 20 minute break, Sam and Chris take to the stage, Sam with neat whiskey in hand. Immediately, he takes to the grand piano before he and the slightly confused looking Chris break into an unexpected free-jazz performance for the better part of a minute. Sam casually steps up to the mic to announce that he can’t actually play piano. As mentioned, this kind of surprise is the norm at Amidon’s shows. The duo then kick into a passionate performance of As I Roved Out, with Chris delivering a pounding drumbeat to accompany the energy of Sam’s banjo. Although Sam’s voice and musical output lend itself to a certain folk melancholy, his personality is far more whimsical. His on-stage banter include a story of a dream about falling asleep on a couch holding a pillow in his hands under his head. However in his dream, it in fact is not a pillow, but a fuzzy little donkey with razor sharp teeth. This would become painfully obvious to him if he were to attempt to remove his hands. Interactions like this only help to make you feel as if you are in Sam’s living room, especially as Chris and Sam have never practiced together, their entire musical relationship based on performances on stage in front of an audience. As Sam says “Thanks for hanging out!” after a rendition of Wedding Dress, it only cements this feeling further.
Following live favourites Saro, How Come That Blood and the aforementioned Wedding Dress, Sam and Chris leave the stage to rampant applause and cheers, only to return moments later for more unplanned entertainment. This is shown by the lack of any form of setlist. For the first encore, Sam sings an a capella folk song lamenting the love of the narrator’s life leaving him and bidding him never to return, complete with interpretive dance. The set is rounded off by another of Sam’s oft performed songs, his cover of Relief by R. Kelly, while his invitation to the audience to join in the singing is taken up for the chorus: “What a relief to know that, we are one / What a relief to know that, the war is over / what a relief to know that, there’s an angel in the sky / what a relief to know that, love is still alive”. Sam allows the audience to take the lead on the final goosebump-inducing refrain, as he quietly thanks the audience and takes a bow before leaving the stage on a memorable and laugh-filled evening.