If familiarity breeds contempt then no-one told the hundreds who packed into the O2 Academy on Saturday night.
For the second time in two years, Damien Dempsey and Amsterdam got the Liverpool Irish Festival off to a riotous start. They’re a match made in Heaven.
Dempsey may still be ignored by the mainland music industry – but his followers are rabid and rocked the O2 to its foundations when he walked on. Approaching the stage like a boxer entering the ring and strapping on his acoustic guitar like a pair of gloves, Damo’ meant business.
“It’s great to be back in the 33rd county of Ireland,” he declared.
He need not have bothered: the crowd were with him from the off. He opened with the tear-jerking ‘Sing All Your Cares Away’ and the sing-a-longs started. His band nailed the reggae-tinged ‘Negative Vibes’ and all the pre-show questions disappeared:despite no new music in the last 12 months, he’s still the best live singer in the business.
Merseysider Ian Prowse gives him a run for his money though.
The Amsterdam singer apparently enjoys a great relationship with the Dubliner, but he came out of the traps like a man with something to prove following Dempsey’s tour de force. With electric guitars, keyboards, a fiddle, a flute and an accordion all creating shapes of sound, the stage resembled Lime Street station at one point with eight people hammering home Prowse’s mini symphonies.
When the singer called for assistance from the crowd, they were there too – as the hometown punters roared their heroes home like only true believers can. Prowse then called on The Farm’s bass player Carl Hunter to bring the bottom end to fan favourite ‘Joe’s Kiss’ – before Dempsey was invited back on to add those thunderous tones to ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?’
The night may well have been rocking – but it wasn’t just fun on offer. Both Dempsey and Amsterdam are artists with something to say. Raise your eyebrows if you like, but in times of universal deceit it’s nice to hear a human hammer home some points of view.
The Irishman may have declined to bring out his most hard-hitting song (‘Colony’), but all the usual poetry, pugilism and protest was there. Amsterdam too hit on some salient points – but with a newly-found lightness of touch, that had Prowse dressed-up as judge, during a furious and funky take on the Tom Robinson Band’s ‘Power In The Darkness’.
Power in the darkness, hey? Not a bad way to sum up this night…
Damien Dempsey and Ian Prowse will be performing as part of the Irish Sea Sessions on Friday 21st October at 7.30pm at the Philharmonic Hall. Joining them on stage will be Alan Burke, Graham Dunne, Niamh Parsons, Gino Lupari, Terry Clarke-Coyne, Dave Munnelly, Stevie Dunne, Jennifer John, Méabh O’Hare, and piper John McSherry (there’s a review of McSherry’s 18th October gig coming soon). Tickets start at £17.50 and can be bought from the Phil box office, links here.