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Sharon Shannon @ the Olympia Theatre, Dublin
At some point Sharon Shannon realised that being one of the most highly-regarded instrumentalists in Irish music doesn’t make you the kind of dynamic performer that pulls huge crowds, so she has evolved a stage show where she gets to do what she’s best at and steps back enough to let her motley assortment of rabble-rousing yahoos do their thing as well.
Greg McAteer, 20 Apr 2006
Coming from where I do, I have to admit I’m very uncomfortable around lads in tight navy slacks, wearing jumpers too tight over shirts buttoned up to the neck, but I’ll bet you a pound to a pinch of pigshit that I wasn’t as uncomfortable as they were in a packed Olympia when Sharon Shannon’s ‘circus’ – Mundy’s description, not mine – had finished with them.
At some point Sharon Shannon realised that being one of the most highly-regarded instrumentalists in Irish music doesn’t make you the kind of dynamic performer that pulls huge crowds, so she has evolved a stage show where she gets to do what she’s best at and steps back enough to let her motley assortment of rabble-rousing yahoos do their thing as well. Putting together a band which features Jim Murray on guitar and Gerry O’Connor on banjo and fiddle gives the ensemble a good grounding for playing the traditional sets, but the meat and two veg onstage came from Richie Buckley’s band, who added drums, keyboards, bass and sax to the proceedings. Swerving between ceili house and jazz workouts, the sets seldom took the direction you might expect as the two onstage posses worked sometimes with each other, sometimes against.
And that’s before you take the special guests into account. I’ve never seen a ticket with so much writing on it, as all the guests were namechecked. First up was Roesy, who managed to find his own groove fairly readily amongst the multitude of instruments onstage.
After a chaotic detour into ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’, it was Jon Kenny’s turn to take the reins. By this stage the crowd were pumped up and raring to go and he didn’t disappoint them kicking off with a breakneck rendition of ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain’ which would have had Burl Ives whirling in his grave. I don’t think anyone noticed that he forgot the words until he ‘fessed up himself later on in the evening. After entertaining the crowd with a few more stories he went head to head with the band and hammed it up unmercifully for ‘Quando Quando Quando’, letting the jazzers do their worst.
Dessie O’Halloran made the trip up from Inishbofin, apparently getting out of his sick bed to do so, and although his vocals got lost in the mix, his fiddle playing cut though effortlessly.
After the interval there were some more sets and the excitement built as Mundy came on stage. Going head to head with the band on his uber-crowd pleaser ‘Mexico’, he cranked up the volume and the excitement to fever pitch. The musical highpoint of the night was his ‘Love And Confusion’ which was one of the few occasions when everyone on stage was truly pulling together and it was absolutely the right song for it to happen on, and the pitch got even more fevered as he strapped on a mandolin to take the Steve Earle part on ‘Galway Girl’, leading the crowd in a rollicking singalong.
All caution was thrown to the wind for a final lap of honour, and everyone was back onstage for ‘Courtin’ In The Kitchen’.
Encores were ‘Mouth Of The Tobique’, a "mad set of tunes", in Sharon’s own reckoning, and the most surreal version of ‘Ring Of Fire’ I have yet to witness. Dedicated to the tummy bug which had had most of the band on the toilet before the show, Mundy, Roesy and Jon Kenny took a verse each as the stage transformed into the 21st Century equivalent of a showband show.
Early on in the evening Sharon said we would have a party and that, in fact, was exactly what we had: crazy, free-form, shambolic, raucous and dogged by mushy sound, but undoubtedly one hell of a hooley. I’d say a few of those slacks-wearing young lads might even have opened the top button.