Department at Whelan’s – Review
With a fresh name make-over and some hidden away studio time with Philip Magee under their belts (Kodaline, The Script), Department played the cosy surroundings of upstairs in Whelan’s on Saturday night. Their absence from the Irish music scene has been a long stretch, but with teasers for their new ‘Indian Summer’ video being recently released and plans for a new EP in September, it’s clear that the formerly named iKonics mean business.
I arrived just in time to see Mark Campbell starting up his set, and he is an instant breath of fresh air to hear live. He starts off with ‘Respite’, showcasing his faultless vocals that soared around the room and also his effortless acoustic offerings. His cover of James Bay’s ‘Hold Back The River’ is cleverly interpreted, and he also introduces ‘City Lights’, taken from his band Calvary’s upcoming EP. His cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ was also a great choice as it suited his style really well. His smooth transitions and confident stage presence mean he’s destined for shows that will bring rooms to silence as shows what he has to offer.
With fairy lights strewn around a minimalist musical arrangement on stage, Department’s set already had the makings for a cute and cosy evening that would strip everything right back to its core. Opening up with this year’s earlier release, ‘Cut Me Down To Size’ comes across beautifully. Lead singer Dean’s vocals are pure magic, and when coupled with the soft acoustics you’re really onto something special. They take on the Beatles classic ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as a cover; not an easy feat for anyone but they tweak it in such a way that it keeps it original quality while also getting their own stripped back Department stamp of approval.
Their set also includes the debut of some of their newer tracks. ‘Here With You’ has such a catchy arrangement and flows in a more faster pace than some of their previous offerings. It suits their sound so well, and has a real summery feel about it. Definitely radio-friendly material to sing-along to with the window down and your hair swishing about in every direction. ‘You Just Don’t Get It’ is another new track, and discusses all that comes with being famous such as dealing with the media and the reality of becoming an idol regardless of whether you intend to be or not.
‘Indian Summer’ is due to have its video release soon, the trailer of which can be seen here. From a live perspective it really showcases their leaps and bounds forward as a band. There’s shaky aspects to Dean’s vocals but not in a nervous way. Instead it’s a rather unique style that grows with his impressive range and is complemented by both Wayne and Stephen’s efforts for a completely raw performance.
After a previous encounter with an enthusiastic nursing home audience, ‘Physical Attraction’ gets its time to shine in a completely different live setting. The keyboard inclusions are the stand out here, and slot in nicely with the vocal offerings. It was also a nice touch to hear that the money earned from playing in nursing homes is pumped straight back into recording money for Department to get their tracks down and mixed as soon as they can. This highlights their genuine drive and ambition to get themselves out there and make opportunities as best they can.
An energetic cover of Paddy Smith’s ‘Because the Night’ is followed by ‘Such A Shame For Love’, clearly a very personal track for Dean and it gets a great reception in the room. ‘Silence Erupted’ brings about a hushed atmosphere, and I was happy to see it included as it remains a favourite even from their previous live shows. They finish up with the interesting choice of a Nirvana cover, bringing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ down a few notches to a more swaying friendly version instead of a screaming head-bang approach you’d generally be accustomed to. It really works though and they definitely made it their own.
Department have really genuine and down to earth demeanors about them. They make sure to show their constant appreciation towards those who came out to see them and are clearly delighted to be back gigging again. With a charismatic lead singer who looks at home performing, and strong arrangements to either side of him on stage, this trio are most definitely back on the radar. We wish them all the best in their quest to the top.
Review by Nicole Leggett