- 23 Dec 19
The Rathcoole native’s audience was enthralled at his Dublin return last night. But there's even better to come from Dermot Kennedy...
28-year-old Dermot Kennedy has a wonderfully rich and raspy voice. It's one that belies his relative youth: the type of timbre that usually comes only after decades of booze and fags. These lived-in, gravelly vocals are surely one of the main catalysts for his meteoric rise to fame, going from Grafton Street busker to streaming sensation to mainstream success on both sides of the pond within what feels like a very short space of time.
Dermot Kennedy released two albums in 2019 – a self-titled compilation record of early tracks and – in the autumn – his acclaimed major label debut, Without Fear, which, in true David and Goliath fashion, kept Kanye off the No.1 spot on the Irish charts. He was also on the cover of Hot Press. It feels fitting, then, for the Dublin singer-songwriter to round off the year with two sell-out arena dates in his home town. The boy is back...
As it turns out, Dermot Kennedy is not the only rising Irish musician whose skills are being showcased in 3Arena tonight, with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Lilla Vargen (Swedish for ‘Little Wolf’) opening for him. Delivering delicate yet powerful ballads – mostly about the perils of romantic relationships – she blends Lisa Hannigan-like arrangements with a soaring, room-shaking voice that recalls Adele. The stand-out song in her set is the stunning ‘The Shore’, which opens her latest EP We Were Thunder, launched last month. On this showing, she has enormous potential.
Support act applauded, it’s Kennedy’s time to shine. As he walks onto the stage, he is partially shrouded by smoke – the theatrics serving to build anticipation among the 13,000-strong audience to fever pitch. He launches into a gorgeous rendition of ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’, a track which – without the vocoder that features on the album version – hits even harder in the flesh, Kennedy’s natural vocals doing all the heavy lifting. From there, the singer glides into ‘Lost’, which like most of the tracks from Without Fear, goes down a treat in the 3Arena thanks to its massive-sounding chorus ("But if only you could see yourself in my eyes/ You'd see you shine, you shine"). Shine he does.
It’s at this stage that Kennedy first tries to address the home crowd. Clearly bowled over by the roars of approval from his adoring fans, all he can muster is a simple: “Thank you so, so much for this.” Clearly, it is an emotional moment. ‘All My Friends’, a song about missing home, follows. This massive anthem is the first of two instances where practically everyone in the crowd lifts a phone, pointing upwards, torches shining brightly to illuminate the 3Arena. It happens again during Kennedy’s stripped back rendition of ‘For Island Fires and Family’. From my vantage point in the standing area, it looks incredible. I can’t imagine how marvellous it must have felt to Dermot Kennedy, gazing out at the spectacle from the stage.
Throughout the Rathcoole native’s set, the audience remains enthralled. They listen intently during the moments when Kennedy breaks down elements of his writing or opens up about what a particular song means to him. Discussing ‘Outnumbered’, he muses on how incredible it is that a song he wrote to give a loved one hope during a tough time can do the same for many others when they hear the track: its hip-hop beats and almost spoken word lyrics sound terrific live.
As the night builds to its climax, it’s clear that Dermot Kennedy has a special knack for touching the hearts and the spirits of his fans. The crowd sing along with gusto to the pop banger that is ‘Power Over Me’ and to the closing number ‘After Rain’. Tonight, Dermot Kennedy gave us an evening not to forget. Best of all, you get the feeling that – in truth – he is only just starting...