21 May 2004
Paris UK Tour
Review on Shakenstir website
Damien Dempsey, Carina Round & James Blunt Live
Last year, Hot Press, Irelands premier music magazine, featured Damien Dempsey on its front cover portrayed as a prize fighter. When Carina Round visited Wrexham for a Wrexham FM live broadcast a couple of months ago she told me that after her tour of the USA she would be playing a UK tour with Dempsey, but didnt really know him. I found the copy of Hot Press and showed her the feature, adding that Dempsey would make a very interesting performing partner. I have seen most of the best Irish bands and singer/songwriters perform in Ireland and over here in the UK, but Dempsey had alluded me. His depiction as a prize fighter and the reason why the Irish love the guy to death would soon become clear...
Carina Round has been featured many times on the pages of Shakenstir, and for good reason. Round is an uncompromising, highly original artist of supreme quality whose recent tour of New York was a triumph. She has toured with the very best singer/songwriters including David Gray and Ryan Adams, and is unquestionably one of the UKs finest young singer/songwriters, if not the best.
Young UK singer/songwriter James Blunt was a stranger to me, and as I entered the venue he was already in full flow. I was immediately impressed with his vocal quality and the gentle, highly melodic nature of his music. Accompanied by his sister on backing vocals and a keyboard player, Blunt exhibited musical maturity beyond his years. The UK is currently enjoying a bumper crop of new, very high quality singer/songwriters and on this showing I would place Blunt alongside the wonderful and darker Tom McRae. I learned after the show that Blunt had already toured with Katie Melua, and will be releasing an album during the summer. I was very impressed.
As I waited for Round to appear, I chatted with various audience members who had come to see Dempsey perform. A young couple had travelled down from Leeds while Karen, Jonnie, Niall and Nianh were over from Dublin. I grabbed the opportunity to talk about Dublins wonderful Witnness Music Festival and hopefully, if Jonnie can get his act together.
Ill be seeing these delightful young people again at the festival in July (this year its called the Oxegen Festival). Nobody I talked to had heard of Carina Round so it was going to be interesting to see their reaction to this extraordinary talent.
Round eventually mounted the stage dressed in a formal black number, accompanied by a full backing band. Within the opening moments of the performance, I noticed a distinctly more confident and mature Round. Gone was the initial nervousness that I had seen in previous gigs, and there was even a hint of aggression as she launched herself onto an unsuspecting audience.
By her second song, she had the audience by the throat and went from being great to brilliant. I recognised most of the songs from her latest album (THE DISCONNECTION) including Lacuna, Paris, and Monument, and on the night they sounded better live. There were occasions when a quiet, threatening build-up would culminate in a wild instrumental thrash with Round flinging herself around like a wild dervish. It was a remarkable performance and made all the better by her interaction with the enthused punters. There was one particularly loud, inebriated individual who Round targeted. She eventually asked his name, and then promptly introduced him to the audience. The crowd loved it.
Every song performed received huge acclaim and I couldnt help notice the people I had chatted to earlier visibly bouncing around as she played. An incredible set was completed by a song from her fist mini-album, THE FIRST BLOOD MYSTERY, and then the crowd let rip with the level of acclaim usually reserved for heroes. After she had left the stage, many made the trip to her sales table to thank her and purchase records (with demands for signed messages, of course).
Carina Round and her intensely personal songs just keep getting better. With a full band, her music reaches new levels of depth and drama, and, like other truly great performers, she possesses a unique style, individuality and a voice that cannot be ignored. Along with her blazing brown eyes, and aggressive guitar playing Carina Round is much, much more than just a pretty face. Shes a star.
This was already turning into one of the gigs of the year but Dempsey nailed it as the best show Ive seen in 2004. With a full backing band milling around him, Dempsey announced, I am pissed which immediately generated a roar of approval from his many fans. As he struggled to fix his guitar in a highly bemused manner, I was beginning to understand the prize fighter tag; hes a big guy, solidly built and radiating authority. Opening solemnly but optimistically with Seize The Day, a song with strong melody and moving lyrics, he displayed a very individual style and genuine passion. Seize the day, hey, Sure You dont want no regrets when you look back... Sure at least youll know, You gave this life a crack. - simple and affirmative lyrics from a man who has obviously struggled and persevered to be heard. Then the very beautiful, pleading and uplifting Negative Vibes sung with a strong Irish accent and peppered with reggae influences - a stunning song which was recited word-for-word by the adoring audience.
The rap vibe of Celtic Tiger rang out with wonderful backing vocals from two of the band members. The song was introduced as an anti-corporate greed, anti-globalisation protest, and reflected sorrow at what Ireland is becoming. Another aspect of the prize fighter tag became clear; he is a highly political artist seeking to use his music to alert and change, and with immense power. A few songs later and the incredible highlight of the performance came with the song Ghosts Of Overdoses. Introduced by Dempsey as "a song about drugs", its pace and vibe moved from being quietly contemplative to a momentous and angry rock rush. Mind-blowing!
Following Apple from a previous album, new track Jar Song with its unique folk/reggae/rap sound sustained the quality of this awesome set. I took a few moments to look around at the audience and most were singing along. This got me wondering how an artist who is still virtually unknown in the UK can still muster fans able to recite every song. Perhaps theres hope in this mediocre music market after all?
Dempsey introduced the next song, Alibi, with "this is about manufactured pop music." Lyrically, it tore into those seeking fame and fortune rather than artistic integrity, and the audience roared its approval. Next up, Industrial School, with its tale of Irish educational and religious suppression spat out angrily and finishing with the lyric, We have to break the cycle before any more kids are lost.
Massive demands for an encore (especially from a drunken but good-natured group of fans dancing with abandon at the front of the stage) brought Dempsey back onto the stage to sing a solo rendition of the moving and beautiful Factories, Trains And Houses. The band then returned to complete an inspiring set with another new song called Its All Good. With incessant demands for more, Dempsey played one extra song and one of the most entertaining and moving performances I have ever seen came to an end.
I strongly recommend that you check out when this threesome are in your neck of the woods, as you wont witness a more diverse, passionate and inspiring set of singer/songwriter performances. Click on www.carinaround.co.uk or www.damiendempsey.com where the tour schedule is fully detailed.
Photos from Shakenstir website