Andy Cairns at Whelan’s – Review
After over twenty years at the helm of one of Northern Ireland’s most loved musical exports, the announcement of a string of Andy Cairns solo acoustic tour dates late last year provoked more than a few questions about the future of Cairns and his band. But with Therapy?’s follow-up to 2012’s excellent ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ due in September, it seems, at the moment, that Therapy? will fire ahead, with Cairns only considering these gigs “a challenge”. The accompanying album, ’53 Minutes Under Byker’, was released late last year featuring acoustic covers of twelve Therapy? songs, six new songs and a cover.
Sat up on stage alone, with a stool and a table for his lyric sheets and setlist, Cairns didn’t seem quite comfortable in this environment just yet. Indeed, seeming unnerved by the anergic crowd during the two openers, he resorted to a gentle prodding during ‘Stories’ to get the audience warmed up, but they didn’t need telling twice, and provided a rich backing the rest of the night. Between tracks, Cairns entertains, delving into the meaning behind the songs he plays and their circumstances, and proves himself to be an entertaining character in this setting too as he charts some of the drug-induced shenanigans that went on back in the early days of the band. Now 48, married and greying around the edges, he still, however, retains the vitality that characterised those years, and charms with the fondness with which he reminisces. I had my doubts about the strength of his voice in such a minimalist setting, but they turn out to be completely inaccurate, and Cairns puts in a stellar vocal performance.
The set largely consists of tracks from the early years – certainly not later than 1998’s Semi-Detached anyway – but he also sprinkles a few new Therapy? tracks, a few of his own and some covers throughout the set. The best of these are probably ‘Our Love Must Die’, though also technically a Therapy? oldie. Most of the songs actually work quite well acoustically, but he sticks pretty close to the originals for the most part. This is no bad thing – I’m not suggesting a re-imagined set full of wistful ballads – but the lack of invention along the way is a little disappointing.
Nonetheless, it’s still enjoyable to hear a set full of classics which he delivers in a 30 song-strong set, and while his newer solo songs don’t seem to be anything groundbreaking, they remain fine additions. Stand out tracks include ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’ and ‘Shitkicker’. He ends with, what Cairns calls “A medley of their hit”, ‘Screamager’ (featuring Therapy? bassist Mike McKeegan), followed by ‘Misery’ and ‘Isolation’ to cap off a highly enjoyable performance. Credit indeed to the man as well for sticking around to talk to fans as long as he did.
The gig is unequivacably enjoyable, for both die-hards and more casual Therapy? fans, but the big question in events like these is whether or not the music stands on its own merits, or if it’s just an exercise in nostalgia. The truth is unfortunately somewhere in the middle: some songs definitely work in this form, but a small number wind up sounding like the kind of generic singer-songwriter nonsense you can hear at any open mic. The electric guitar riffs in a couple (‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Isolation’), don’t really come through on acoustic either. But honestly, these are just quibbles in what was otherwise an extremely enjoyable show. We don’t know just yet how long this experiment is to last, but it seems a success so far.
Review by Conor Cosgrave