- 30 Aug 19
To The Manor Born
It's kind of hard to believe that only about two short years ago, I was watching David Keenan support The Strypes in Dublin's Thomas House, and, I must admit, I had to be cajoled by his manager to go at all. What was obvious, even on that first night, was his talent, that intensity, that star power. A fool would have bet against him moving up and now here he is, opening the main stage at the 2019 Picnic.
Let's point out something else, here is an act that has graduated to the main stage and yet has still to release his first album. Rumour has it that it's finished, it's coming soon, but to be able to play this stage, to have a crowd smilingly sing your words back to you before a record arrives is a real achievement. The reason is the passion he inspires among his faithful, his music is something that once heard is hard to shake. There's a poetry to what he's at. There is soul at play.
Surrounded by his loyal gang, they open with their theme song as such, 'Unholy Ghosts'. By the song's end, Keenan is wearing a grin, conscious that something special is going on. "What a life to be living!" he shouts into the microphone. The dream of any artist. Recognition. The taste must be sweet.
"The dogs on the street sing your praises" He could be singing about himself. We're into 'The Healing', the spirit of Van Morrison being called on for not the last time this evening. The violin sound that grew from Van's Into The Music and filtered through The Frames carries it. Healing is what it is.
Harry Hoban, in full face makeup, a rock n' roll pierrot, steps out from behind the keyboards to allow Gavin Glass to take his place for 'Evidence of Living', already a Keenan anthem. It's delicate to start "within them, within us" is the inclusive howl before a tumultuous end that has Keenan punching his heart in thanks. "Not a bad way to spend your birthday," he declares and the crowd serenade him. He can't help but smile.
Graham Hopkins takes an orchestral mallet to his drums for 'Good Old Days' - "God Bless You" Keenan offers benediction to his throng before asking "where are ye?" 'Love In A Snug' is possibly the prime example of Keenan as Behan with an acoustic guitar, "in the back end of town, in the unholiest hour" he sings over the click of boot heels on bar stools and the hum of the three bar heater. He is, as they used to say, as good as a play. The fiddle storms back in like Steve Wickham at his wildest as the crowd join to sing "rain, rain go away" Keenan, and his motley crew, are lost in the music now. "Don't let the darkness get in on top of you" The music offers a light against the shade.
'Alter Wine' has morphed into something akin to late period Leonard Cohen. Keenan comes down to the crowd, he raises his hands, they touch the hem, he pushes away the cellphones, "C'mere! C'mere!" he whispers, turning the main stage into a warm backroom. "Are we not delirious?" It's hard not to be.
'Origin Of The World' starts with overdriven, reverbed Glass guitar, Keenan "singing a song as an act of rebellion." The tempo fires up again, into a three chord trash, this band the masters of dynamics. More street poetry "Wish me luck, I'm in trouble again"
Keenan and band embrace and bow, aware - and how could they not to be given the crowd's response - that they've taken it, earned this next step up. Remember that fool earlier? He should fill out the slip for Keenan coming back to own the whole shebang, and shortly.