Damien Dempsey at The Button Factory – Review & Photos
Damien Dempsey is an artist that you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve seen him live. He’s a tall, stocky, imposing figure whose pounding guitar style (that’s no doubt influenced by his interest in folk music), socially conscious lyrics and strong, heavily accented, vocals have marked him out as a unique presence amongst the overpopulated tribe of Irish singer-songwriters.
On Wednesday night in the Button Factory, Dempsey took the audience through a dazzling career retrospective in celebration of the imminent release of It’s All Good, The Best of Damien Dempsey, a collection of his finest work to date that also includes two new songs.
The impressive Morrissey & Marshall kicked off the evening with their brand of tight, bluesy acoustic rock. Their vocal harmonies were particularly impressive, making apparent the reasons why the duo have been generating quite a bit of interest over the past year or so. The crowd certainly seemed to react well to them, with one group of young ladies at the side of the stage being particularly vocal in their appreciation.
Morrissey & Marshall had barely left the stage when the first chants of ‘Damo, Damo’ began to ring around the venue as the room began to fill up in anticipation of the man from Donaghmede’s arrival. When he did finally arrive on stage just after nine o’clock, he looked relaxed and happy, decked out in denim shirt and jeans, kicking proceedings off with a solo version of How Strange. It was a bold move to start with a song that he told us he’d never performed solo before but it was a move that worked as the crowd sung ever word back at him, setting the tone for the evening.
As the rest of his band ambled on to the stage Damo asked, “Who fancies a sing-song?” – a question that drew a predictably favourable response from a crowd who were clearly in the mood to have a good time. The band duly kicked in to It’s All Good followed by Patience, which was given a slight ska flavour for the evening. These songs were the first ones that prompted Dempsey to offer the mic to the audience. It was a trick he would repeat several times during the show, ensuring that the whole night did indeed become one big sing-song.
The band that he’s assembled for this tour are all incredibly accomplished players, allowing Damo to confidently breeze through early work such as I’ve No Alibi right through to newer material such as Almighty Love, a song that stretched Dempsey’s vocal ability to its very limit.
Of the newer songs that he played, Chris and Stevie was the most powerful. A tender ballad about friends who have committed suicide, you can hear the pain in Dempsey’s voice as he sings the refrain of ‘talk to me and tell me how you feel’ in memory of his departed friends. It’s a song that has a much more immediate and emotional effect live than it does on record.
The more solemn moments of the set were juxtaposed nicely with the more upbeat moments, with Damo’s natural story telling ability apparent in some of the stories he related to the crowd, such as the story about his dad requesting that he write some happy songs for a change that lead us in to a new song, appropriately titled Happy Days. It’s a bouncy, reggae influenced number that sat well with the older material.
Of the latter part of the set, The Rocky Road to Dublin drew a predictably rapturous response while Colony built from very little instrumental accompaniment to a rousing crescendo for the glorious refrain of ‘you will never kill our will to be free’. After dedicating Bustin Outta Here to the crooked bankers, Sing All Our Cares Away closed the main set before the band briefly left the stage before emerging for a blistering encore of Serious, Negative Vibes and Party On, three of his finest songs that had the whole room jumping and people dancing in the aisles of the balcony area.
The night ended with Damo and the band huddled together at the front of the stage for a stunning a cappella version of The Auld Triangle in memory of Sean Potts of The Chieftains, who sadly passed away the previous evening.
A quick Google search of the words ‘Damien’, ‘Dempsey’ and ‘marmite’ will tell you that opinion is very much divided on Dempsey’s work. There are those who love his unique style and those that hate it, but perhaps now would be a good time for those who dislike him to check out his Best Of and maybe go and witness his incredible live performances. They may find themselves pleasantly surprised.
Review by Mark O’Brien