Here’s a reprint of my review of the Damien Dempsey gig from last Christmas that ran in Hot Press.
The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
It may be as miserable as Morrissey in a McDonald’s outside on the streets of Belfast tonight, but you’d never know it inside the cosy confines of the Empire Music Hall as the great unwashed gathered here this evening are positively cockahoop at the prospect of Damien Dempsey gracing the stage. In fact, for the thirty minutes before the singer/songwriter performs his first song there are raucous chants of “DAMO! DAMO!” ringing out around the hall and when he finally does appear, the venue is a veritable sea of excitement and adoration.
“How ya Belfast, ready for a sing-song?” he asks in his thick Donaghmede accent (which sounds positively exotic round these parts) and that’s exactly what he provides for the guts of the next two hours. Opening with ‘Sing All Your Cares Away,’ the Empire feels like a football terrace as the crowd croon along to every single word. We may only be one tune in, but tonight already feels like it’s something special and we’ve got goose bumps on top of our goose bumps. “Doctors recommend singing to help with depression-just call me Dr Damo. I’ll examine you all later,” he jokes before launching into the sublime title track from his sixth record Almighty Love.
Despite the album only coming out a matter of weeks ago, the audience know every last syllable and nuance of the new stuff and it’s a testament to Dempsey’s talent for crafting powerful melodies. ‘Chris And Stevie,’ a song which the singer penned for his friends who committed suicide, is a particular highlight and it’s a beautiful lament which sounds all the more potent when his voice cracks slightly with emotion during the chorus and the reggae-infused ‘Your Pretty Smile’ (his “one happy tune”) is a touching love song delivered with honesty and sincerity.
While some might say playing the politically-charged ‘Colony’ may have been a gamble in a city which will continue to feel the effects of “those glorious days of rule” for decades to come, for this writer it was Dempsey’s performance of the night and it sounded all the more mesmerizing due to its setting (the venue was a church in its previous life). On the other hand, his version of ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’ fell a little flat to these ears, but with the likes of ‘Community’ et all in his canon and a band of truly talented musicians backing him, it was only a small blip in what was a life-affirming gig. Our next appointment with Dr Damo can’t come soon enough.