The omens were good for the Gloaming concert in Vicar Street last night – no need for a raincoat in the mid-afternnoon sun as Dublin was a-buzzing in the warm spring weather, the trip to Forever 21 was painless – I had my teenage daughter with me, – and then we had a great meal at the Thai Orchid (spicy Prawn soup recommended), followed by a nice walk to Vicar Street for the gig I had been anticipating since seeing them pulverize the Mandela Hall in Belfast last August.
Before that was the small matter of Vermont’s Mr Sam Amidon.
I’d heard lots of positive reports about the young American and it’s such a wonderful feeling when all the hype you’ve heard turns out to be justified.
Sam, has a great stage presence but hey, we wanted to hear some music and what we got were songs full of charm, wit, mystery and beauty.
In the introduction to the great I See the Sign, he suggests that actress Kursten Dunst, because of the fixed facial features she has shown in her last couple of films, knows something about the future that we don’t.
“This song tries to address that,” he says before launching into a song with a voice alternatively as gravelly as a match being struck or as soft as silk pyjamas.
Like The Gloaming with tunes and Iarla Ó Lionáird with songs and poems, Sam likes to take material from any number of esoteric sources, take them apart and reassemble them in different guises until he come up with a creative re-imagining and a recreation of the original. Here endeth the theory.
In practice, Amidon’s repertoire totally won over the Vicar Street audience. During the Kate McGarrigle song Talk to Me of Mendocino, the audience were were looking at him the way a mother looks at her newborn child. Aaah!
This was followed by a wonderfully left-field version of The Streets of Derry “from the singing of Andy Irvine” and other highlights included Sam mocking himself as a “mediocre jazz guitarist” while doing a George Benson This Masquerade sort of affair and some pretty wierd hand dancing.
Helping Amidon throughout was his longtime buddy Thomas Bartlett aka Dovemen on piano, percussion and whatever you’re having yourself.
Thomas is of course also a member of The Gloaming and after the break where he went into a telephone box and spun around for a while, he came out with Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Iarla Ó Lionáird, a stunning line-up of musicians (and a singer) who have the intelligence and the skill and the understanding and the dúchas to produce superlative music – without losing their sense of humour.
I think they do things back to front. They begin with their masterpiece which consists of Iarla kickstarting the performance with the song, An Cúíl daigh-réidh before the band come in with a tune called Captain Kelly’s followed by a lullaby Martin learned from his father, then Paddy Cronin’s Reel followed by Rolling In the Barrel, the Tap Room and finally Tom Doherty’s Reel, with a virtuoso section by Thomas Bartlett thrown somewhere into the mix.
When it’s 20-plus minutes of virtuosity were over, the audience went understandably wild in appreciation. (The applause in Belfast almost lasted as long as the music!)
The fireworks gave way to the reflective as Iarla sang Thugamar Fein an Samhradh Linn (Samhradh, Samhradh) before we had more fabulous tunes.
I am, more likely than not, the first (and last) person to compare the Gloaming to a laxative. Take one dose and you purge yourself of Jedward and Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy and Tallaghfornia and Enda and Eamon and the troika and the M5 and you find yourself in a comfortable place called home.
It’s not a place Louis Walsh would touch with a barge-pole but Martin Hayes described it beautifully, saying the more he plays, the better it gets.
“After all this time playing, the better it gets in terms of how good I think the tunes are,” he said. He quoted Joe Cooley who said the music (Irish traditional music) was the only thing that brings people to their senses.
“It speaks of a kind of a commonsense rootedness or earthiness in many ways and also it occupies a lovely place between simplicity and complexity.
“The tunes have lovely old structures inherent in them, a kind of call and response and I’m often amazed at the incredible tune-writing that must have gone on over the generations by simple old fiddle players in their cottages, sculpting these beautiful pieces of music that we get to play.”
He then sallied forth into the Sailor’s Bonnet as an example, letting it shine through the prism of his playing before O Raghallaigh’s throaty Hardanger, Cahill’s subtle accompaniment, Bartlett’s fireworks and even Iarla on the bodhrán jumped on board.
There’s that moment in traditional music when a set of tunes changes key or tempo and such is the psychological effect on an audience that it swoops them up, forcing out of them a primal roar that no doubt goes back to pre-history and we witnessed a few of those at Saturday night’s concert in a great venue, Vicar Street.
The gig finished with a couple of encores with Oro Sé do Bheatha Bhaile bringing the glorious finale. If only there was a pharmaceutical company who could bottle the Gloaming …
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