Prior to the late September release of his new album, Almighty Love, it had been five years since Damien Dempsey had released any new material. In April of last year, he posted an open letter on his Facebook page explaining that this delay had partially been caused by the fact that he had been going through a period of depression and questioning his own work.
This particular bout of melancholy seems to be well and truly behind him as he strides confidently on to the stage with the ‘Damo’ chants reaching a crescendo and launches into the opening song of the night, Sing All Our Cares Away.
The rousing outro, ‘We grow strong, or we fall’ seems apt for the times that we are living through and prompts the first mass sing-a-long of the night, setting the tone for the rest of the gig.
The reggae tinged Negative Vibes is up next, with Dempsey thrusting the microphone towards the crowd to encourage them to join in at the end of the song.
His heavily accented, booming vocals are flawless throughout and the backing band, aided through most of the gig by Sinead O’Connor on backing vocals, are solid and tight. The pounding, tribal drums on Almighty Love are a particular early highlight.
Of the new songs that receive an airing, Bustin Out of Here seems to go down especially well with the crowd but the night really kicks up a notch when an extended traditional jam segues into the achingly beautiful Apple of My Eye, sending the audience wild.
As always, Colony is another highlight. The extended spoken word outro, warning any would be imperialist forces, past or present that ‘You will never kill our will to be free’, always succeeds in whipping the crowd into a delirious frenzy.
That frenzy doesn’t let up as Damo implores the crowd to ‘blow the roof off’ during It’s All Good and they duly oblige. The chant of ‘Love Yourself, Todaaay’ ring out as Dempsey and his band leave the stage in triumph.
The only complaint about the show would be that maybe one or two of these songs should have been saved for the encore which is a slightly more sombre affair.
Factories and Hold Me are lovely songs but may have been better placed in the middle of show rather than at the point where everyone is expecting one final musical orgasmic rush after all of the foreplay.
This is just a minor quibble though, and after the inevitable Fairytale of New York duet with Sinead O’Connor, Spraypaint Backalley draws the evening to a close. At a Christmas time when many are struggling to get by, its closing refrain, borrowed from Oscar Wilde, ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars’ seems like an apt message to end on.
Damien Dempsey is a unique voice in contemporary Irish music who rarely fails to produce the goods when playing live. A perfect way to start the marathon eating and drinking session that is the festive season.