- Live Review
- 30 May 23
In what was the first of three sold-out shows at Dublin's Vicar Street, Lankum led a sonically stunning and crowd-charming show, supported by Elaine Malone.
The four-piece Dublin-based band Lankum is known not just for their moving folk ballads but the command they wield over the room, the connection they foster with music-lovers, and the heart and soul woven into their craft.
Celebrating the release of their fourth studio album, False Lankum, the Irish band has been on tour across Europe for its release. They've been back in Ireland for a handful of shows and are set to perform in Dublin for May's last days, stealing away Vicar Street for three sold-out shows presented by Foggy Notions.
Last night was the first of said Dublin performances. Even with the chill in the air before the show commenced, a factor of nothing else but the eerie, haunting calls beckoning a foreboding over Vicar Street's sound system, the folk-favouring crowd was warm.
A scant few minutes before their opening act for the night, the phenomenal Elaine Malone, stepped out, there was a haunting, sonic scream interwoven over a rumbling deep crackle from the speakers. It compounded with the image of the already awaiting instruments on-stage to make them ghostly objects, bereft of the soul and heart their musicians brought to with them and used to craft their music so reverently.
Silent, stalwart, statuesque - a “hello” and a “my name is Elaine Malone” was all there was said before the thrumming, throbbing enchanting drum beats of Elaine’s first song. Opening the night and swaying side to side and the black fluid fabric of her jumpsuit rippling, she was a calling entity in the non-existent wind, introducing a surreal quality to the night.
Set up with a mic and strumming on a guitar, Elaine wove songs of climbing chords and beckoning vocals.
“It’s very nice to be here,” she offered. When the friendly crowd gave a response, amicable and charmed by the music, she laughed. “Those two people over there are having a very nice time.”
After her first couple of songs, she took a moment to thank the Irish folk act for having her. Each night of Lankum's completely sold-out Vicar Street take-over comes with a different opening act. The 30th is set to see Cormorant Tree Oh and their May 31st show will feature Jonny Dillon.
“It’s an indescribable pleasure to be opening for Lankum tonight," Elaine said. "They're so beautiful."
“This next song is called 'Open Season.' But first: stout," she declared, taking a sip before delicately placing her drink on the ground. With a far-off stolen look beyond the balcony, she began her psych-rock song. Following it up with 'My Baby's Dead,' she was quick to settle any misconceptions.
“It’s not about abortion or anything. It’s more like a murder ballad.”
And a murder ballad it was, influenced by strumming, thrumming rock tones and rolling smooth guitar overlaid with Elaine’s swinging vocals reminiscent of blues influences. It incited not just grooving mood among the crowd or only elicited the response of a few swaying bodies amongst the hundreds, warming them to the night’s frenzy, but encouraged the on-stage head-bashing her support bandmates.
When she declared the intent of two more songs, a couple of audible "yoops!" came from the crowd, which she took good naturedly.
“I really like how ‘yoop ’ can be anything.”
Finally, while lit like a rosy sunrise, Elaine’s final song of the night saw the eerie introduction of a bass clarinet, adding a haunting surreal sound to her act, heightening it to new levels alongside the hard, stripping guitar solo of her guitarist.
There wasn't a long wait for Lankum, after that. Lit anew in purple lighting, the room stood abated in breath. A mass of people had piled in during Elaine's set, pressed wall to wall - there was no breathing room that was not shared with another, either on the floor or in the balcony overlooking the Vicar Street stage. The rumble of the eager audience was as loud as the music playing of the speakers in the interim, a cacophony or warbled speech bleeding into its own ambient sound.
When the band members of Lankum stepped on stage, it was after the lights had dimmed over the rest of the room. The restless crowd knew what they were looking for - in the minutes before, as people tested their instruments, the energy only seemed to rise as a violin was fiddled with or a re-tuned guitar was holstered again in its stand, awaiting.
So the crowd's roaring cheers when the band members of Lankum - Radie Peat, Ian Lynch Daragh Lynch, and Cormac MacDiarmada - walked out, it didn't matter that they walked carefully over the stage wires and took what felt like forever to settle in.
There are acts that enrapture. There are acts that resonate. And there are acts that are an experience like no other - and there is nothing like the energy that Lankum captivated the room with as Cormac opened the night on viola before Radie Peat began to sing the opening lyrics to 'The Wild Rover.'
Already an otherworldly, thrilling act, the members of Lankum sat spread across the stage and lit in a glow as their instruments melded together into a transformative show.
After, when Ian addressed the crowd, any attempt at a speech beyond “Hey Dublin!" aws drowned into an indistinguishable mess of sound as the audience's cheers overpowered the mics.
“Fucking great to see you. Finally back in the only place that really understands us. Actually though," Ian laughed. "It keeping alright?"
Fostering a warm, inviting atmosphere, people didn't have any inhibitions about calling back out to the band. “How are you doing?” came from somewhere deep in the crowd, inciting a quick conversation.
"A bit knackered but alright."
"Look after yourselves!"
"We're trying!" Ian assured. "It's hard sometimes, you know. We're trying to figure out how to play gigs again. That's the hard part."
Sweet hecklers and chuckles from the rest of the audience about the interaction aside, ("You're playing well!"), Ian continued on to introduce the next song.
"I think we're going to play a song and then we're going to play another one. This is a song that was on the album we just put out. It’s all about going away to sea on a boat with the kinds of people you shouldn't be going away on boats with. It's called the 'New York Trader.'"
Like a shanty meets a folk tune, Ian's voice wove a story of consequences and a ballad of bad decisions.
Wielding a well-tempered charm over the crowd, after the track finished, Ian took back the mic to add a little background to the night.
"It was so long in between when we recorded these songs and when we started playing them, that we all completely forgot what we were meant to be doing. We had to resort to the very humiliating tactic of looking our own lyrics up on Genius lyrics."
"It was a call to reality," he reflected sheepishly. "But, we love you so much that we left these gigs until we had done loads of other ones. Because the other ones were brutal."
"You're lucky, is what I'm saying."
His brother, Daragh, then gave his own two cents as he strummed guitar. "Last time we were here was December and the heating was broken. Ian's pipes were only slightly out of tune."
Daragh also shared that the next song hailed from the album prior to False Lankum, a collection called A Livelong Day.
"It's the second song off our third album and it's third in the set. And it's my fourth favourite," Ian disclosed to a round of laughs. "It's actually higher up on my favourite scale."
'The Young People’ had a powerful crescendo in the middle of it, resolute and mournful but steady - there was a purpose embedded into the song, a recognition of the human foil and folly made all the richer for it despite the weight that comes with grief. It was a song sung knowing that we all grow past our youth, but still emphasised the importance of living all the same, especially as we age.
Keeping to the theme of making every moment count, Lankum quickly realised that there was something that could be added to their current tour. While not a song in their recorded repertoire, Ian noted that it was a must to include 'The Rocky Road of Dublin' in their set list.
“The first few gigs we were doing around Europe, we didn’t have this song in. We realised that was a really bad decision. It’s a fucking rad song."
“It’s not on our albums," Radie Peat noted. "It might never be."
"According to Ian," Daragh noted, "It's about an English man taking the piss out of Irish people.”
Ian doubled down on the claim. "It definitely has a strong element of 'paddy-wackery' to it. But, you know, we’re fucking reclaiming it."
A reclamation it was, Lankum giving it a dark, earthy-audio-toned rebirth.
Halfway through, what was an eerie thrum of a strengthening chord became a warning call and a prowling musical measure, emphasised by the scrape of a stringed bow. A rumbling noise, it departed from the realm of traditional folk and would have its place in the foreboding score of a horror film.
Next up, 'Lord Abore and Mary Flynn,' a track that can be easily found on False Lankum, had a few interesting tidbits of information introduced with it.
"The next song is the first time that Cormac MacDiarmada sung the main part of the song with us," Ian recalled. Further elaborating, he continued. "This song was believed to be extinct by folklore buffs all over the world, until one man, called Tom Munnelly, heard it being sung in a pub in Dublin in 1969. It's originally a Scottish song called 'Prince Robert.'"
"But by the time it was being sung in Dublin, it was being called 'Lord Abore and Mary Flynn.'"
"Some English journalist came to see us," Daragh remembered. "And he was complaining the next day in Times that the song was a bit too long."
A good-natured crowd, laughs had erupted at the mention of the journalist. Even more spilled forth at the mention of the complaint, and someone even called that Lankum's own version of 'Lord Abore and Mary Flynn' "wasn't long enough."
The concert-goer was right. Like all of Lankum's striking scores, the length of the piece added to the music and allowed for the musicians to artfully bring the stories and their sound to life. The only shame of going to see Lankum live was the unfortunate moment when each song approached their end.
Besides a rather "unequivocally, categorically, undeniably" generous and colourful proposal on Daragh's part in return for the critique, Lankum then gave last night's Vicar Street assembly their own offer.
"Would you like to hear another song?"
Thankfully, at that point of the night there was still a lot of music left to be heard, not least of which was 'On a Monday Morning,' a song about "going to work on a Monday morning. Blasted fucking headache after a super Sunday on the pints."
"I don't drink anymore but I like singing this song because it reminds me of the good times," Ian fondly sighed. "Sometimes hangovers are better than the actual drinking. You ever get that?"
A cacophony of voices, the audience response was, as always, warm.
"You get all spacey and every time you close your eyes you get all these faces morphing into one another."
"You know he's right," Radie Peat chimed in. "I remember when I was pregnant I wasn't drinking and I actually missed the hangovers. I was really jealous of people."
"Well," Daragh concluded, "No better band to capture that experience in song."
"The last gig we played in Cork. We had to restart this song twice,"
The members of Lankum each possessed their own endearing charm - something that enriched the experience of the night as they were simply themselves on-stage. Together, they fostered the lively spirit that no piece of folk music can live without.
The night could not last forever though.
“I have some good news and some bad news,” Ian revealed.
“BAD NEWS FIRST!”
“Bad news is this is our last song.”
The crowd burst out into chatter. “That’s bollocks!” came a cry.
Ian understandably sympathised. “It’s not really, you just have to say that. That's what you do when you’re doing ‘music,’” he whispered, adding finger quotes around the end.
Radie Peat quickly took a moment to thank the talented musicians handling backing instruments. The members of Lankum then also took a moment to encourage clapping for their light technician, Emmett, their support act Elaine Malone, and their producer, who, in addition to taking charge of their live sound and "puts up" with them: John "Spud" Murphy.
Jumping into one more track off the new album, the so-called "good news" (which should have been referred to as "great news") was that Radie Peat was going to sing 'Go Dig My Grave.'
Lit by a spotlight, she and her voice became the focal point for something akin to a call beyond: a summon and a goodbye rolled into one.
Tell this world / that I died for love.
It is difficult to find words that describe or capture the magnanimity of emotion embedded into Lankum's songs, but pouring over the depth of the lyrics can help. 'Go Dig My Grave' was no different, a transformed rallying cry that brought forth clapping hands and stomping feat. Rising up to the thrumming chant of Radie Peat's voice, the supernatural backing from the rest of Lankum crafted a symphonic echo across Vicar Street.
A standing ovation encouraged Lankum to return immediately, to Ian's relief.
“I’m glad you were clapping there, otherwise that would have been really embarrassing.”
The first of Lankum's encore songs (of which there were three, thankfully), was approached with a personal story.
"The first thing we ever recorded together was ten years ago now. We recorded it in the basement of the Irish traditional music archive. Kind of thought we’d make like 300 CDs and be left with 250 of them. But I think it ended up getting us on Jools Holland."
"Yeah, imagine that," Ian laughed. "We were shitting ourselves."
Daragh agreed. "I think it's still up on YouTube. I think if you look at the video you can see the terror in all of us. Five million people watching. It was our first time on Tellie."
If you look up the video, Lankum's first encore song of the night, 'Cold Old Fire,' would be what you'd find.
Compacting the life and spirit of Dublin into the venue, it was no surprise when people began whistling and cheering at "We look for signs / That Dublin's heart's still beating." And beating, there in that room, it was.
"I just want to say, I know this sounds like a really stupid, cliche person-in-a-band thing to say, but this is probably my favourite venue in the whole country," Ian disclosed.
"Me and Daragh's family had had a pitch right outside there. Our auntie and our granny and our great-granny and our great-great-granny have been selling fruit and veg out on that street going back a hundred years."
"We have a really deep connection with this street and it's just lovely to play here, so that's a million."
With 'Hunting the Wren,' the Dublin four-piece began to wrap up the night in earnest. Warning that the songs would be sung together, the band gave their goodbyes then and there, although not without a one last story to tide the assembly of people over until the next time.
Not one to abandon a little brotherly ribbing, Ian recounted that the last time they played 'Hunting the Wren,' when Daragh had a bucket of rocks that "exploded in his face."
"It was amazing."
"It was a very serious song," Daragh griped good naturedly. "The audience was just cracking up laughing."
"Shard is the wind / Cold is the rain..."
Following it with a mostly instrumental piece, Lankum took their bows soon after. Although the night ended, as it had to, the show was phenomenal. Not just a credit to their magnificent performance skills and musical talent, the musicians of Lankum, through their work and amicable characters, reinvigorate the charms of folk music, endearing it to new generations and old fans.
Listen to Lankum's latest album, False Lankum, here:
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