Live Review: Orchid Collective at Dublin Unitarian Church

We tend to forget that cathedrals are built to hold sound. The massive, meticulously designed cavern of the Dublin Unitarian Church is a work of art in itself, and it’s not exactly the first place you’d expect to see the lads from Orchid Collective. But they’ve turned it into their own venue, with blinding stadium-style lights that occasionally force me to close my eyes. That’s okay, though, as I take a few minutes to sit in the pew with my hands flat on the wood to feel the sound as it hums down the aisles. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the beams of stage lights gleaming down the aisles of church pews and glinting off the stained glass. But listening to the echoing choruses of songs like “Follow You,” and “Blindfold,” makes you think that Orchid Collective is one of the only bands whose ethereal, often overwhelming sound could fill a space this big, especially a church like this. There’s a kind of other-worldliness to the combination of a church hall and a stadium gig, and it’s this surreality that creates the perfect backdrop to Orchid Collective’s sound. The celestial vibe of Shea Tohill’s guitar riffs already sound like the soundtrack to any movie that takes a step away from reality. Frontman David O’Shea is more than capable of filling the room with his vocals, especially during a cover of The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build A Home.” It’s a performance they’ve previously recorded for Aware, a charity working to combat mental health issues. Their rendition builds strongly, with distantly thundering drumbeats before falling into silences to let O’Shea’s vocals echo off of the walls.

Later, the lads tell me how strange it is that everyone’s sitting quietly, instead of hitting the dance floor as they generally do at these kinds of gigs. It does add a bit more focus, though, just in the relationship between act and audience. We’re not stumbling over each other on our way back and forth to the bar. One of the benefits of church gigs, there isn’t one, and we’re all (hopefully) sober. We’re sitting in the pews, not paying attention to much else. We can’t exactly forget the fact that we’re in a church, and at least for me, the memories of Sunday mornings in church as a child are even now causing me to straighten my spine as I sit in my seat. This time, though, I’m entranced as I watch the stage, filling the room with light and sound before each song ends, often with the lights cutting out and plunging us into echoing silence and darkness. Even in that beat of silence and darkness between the music and applause, you can feel how tall the ceilings are above you, as the space holds silence just as well as it holds sound.

According to Orchid Collective themselves, they loved playing in a space like this as much as I loved hearing them. “My favourite part was when it got quiet and you could just hear the room,” Darra Doyle tells me after the gig.

“Yeah, for some of our previous gigs that we would have done at pubs and venues, we might have taken some of the quieter songs, the more intimate ones, out of the set, because they just wouldn’t translate to that audience,” says bassist Hugh O’Neill. “What was great about this gig is that we were completely comfortable with putting those into the set here, and knowing that every quiet bit would just sound incredible.”

While Orchid Collective’s music definitely can thrive no matter what venue they’re playing, the opportunity to see them in a space like this was once in a lifetime, but the opportunity to see them at all should not be missed.


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