- 24 Nov 21
Having initially traversed land and sea (well, mainly sea) to arrive in Dublin three weeks ago, Humberstone lost her voice and was forced to cancel her debut Irish headline gig. She returned on November 23rd for a rescheduled headline performance in Whelan’s, fresh from the release of her intimate new EP 'The Walls Are Way Too Thin'.
Having been propelled into stardom during the lockdown eras of the past 18 months, Holly Humberstone appears almost baffled by the attention. God knows why, as she has the voice of a pop angel and infectious melodies at her disposal. She lit up Whelan's in her Dublin debut last night with pulsating synths and poignant lyrics, with a devoted crowd of fans who knew every single word.
Emerging London-based Dublin native Lucy Blue (real name Lucy McDonnell) kicked off the night with a short yet sweet set, curating the perfect atmosphere for a deeply personal show. The hair-raising vocals of Lucy sound all the better in the flesh, with the rising act treating us to her latest single 'First Man On The Moon' and cuts from her lush 2021 Fishbowl EP. The audience makes a mental note to keep track of the producer's progress. The 19-year-old (yes, you read that right) performed a successful show in her own right at The Academy Green Room on November 18th.
With indie jams from Beabadoobee, Paramore and Phoebe Bridgers blaring around the pub, it felt like we were about to see an undiscovered talent - not a musician with millions of streams and a Jimmy Fallon appearance under her belt. At 9:30pm, it was time for the main event. Interestingly, despite many stating that Humberstone's listeners tend to be young women, the audience was a colourful mix of ages and genders. One man screeched "WE LOVE YOU HOLLY" from down the back before every song in the style of Damian from Mean Girls. It was oddly comforting...
Plugging in her white guitar with her keyboard and loop pedal at the ready, the 21-year-old opens her set with 'Vanilla' - taken from her first EP, Falling Asleep At The Wheel. Despite the beautiful song being one of her lesser known tunes, fans up the front knew every word: "But the truth is, I have my best nights without you". It's as catchy as the rest of her repertoire, full of soaring vocals and richly textured harmonies.
"Thank you for being patient with me," Humberstone tells the crowd, in shy fashion. "I ate some dodgy food earlier and am having severe stomach cramps. I have a bucket on the side of the stage." She's a stronger artist than most, that's for sure. Bravely, Holly is sporting a Union Jack top for her first Republic of Ireland headline show, which is presumably an unintentional yet slightly comical choice. (She gets away with it, of course.)
Up next is 'Overkill', an eclectic track about oversharing and bottling up your feelings for someone else. It highlights the relatability of her lyricism - a whirlwind of anxious thoughts and titbits from everyday life that replay in her mind. "And my heart keeps racing, racing/Still, I'm over being overkill, and/ You don't have to say it back/I just wanna know where your head's at," she sings, effortlessly. The Grantham native is all smiles, despite her stomach situation.
'Thursday' follows suit. Written a few months before 'Scarlett', the track from her November 12th EP The Walls Are Way Too Thin was penned about the same situation. Her best friend was doing anything and everything to make her ex feel some crumb of remorse for treating her in the way he did, to no avail. Humberstone taps into the power of female friendships in heart-wrenching fashion.
Ahead of launching into the gorgeous 'Haunted House', the musician explains her confusion at being an adult and facing the responsibilities which come with that label.
"The whole EP was written at a time when I was growing up and suddenly had responsibilities. Myself and my family had to leave our family home, this crumbling cottage in the countryside. All of my childhood memories were there, and they felt so sacred. Moving out meant leaving my childhood behind, which was really sad," she explains. Making peace with ageing is a tough transition period, made even more relevant during the pandemic lockdowns. Her words appeared to appeal to those feeling lost and lonely in an ever-evolving world.
'Deep End' sees Humberstone describe the experience of trying to pull her sister out of a depressive episode, with poignant words and a soft electric guitar sonic background. "I'll be your medicine if you let me/Give you reason to get out of bed/Sister I'm trying to hold off the lightning/And help you escape from your head," she croons, her delicate vocals made pure by a soft quiver throughout.
The Matty Healy-co-write 'Please Don't leave Just Yet' is offered up to a delighted crowd, with a faster pace and heavier electronic production switching up the mood. 808s and warped synths show Holly's ability to play with techniques. The booming chorus sound even better in person with the help of a choir in the form of a loving Dubliner crowd.
'Friendly Fire', written as a raw, honest letter to her ex, lands afterwards. "If I hurt you it's just friendly fire/well it happens all the time, guess I'm broken by design," she sings, softly. A relationship with a shelf life in the form of a tune.
Up-tempo indie-pop anthem 'Scarlett' treats the crowd to a faster pace and electrifying chorus. A tribute to her best friend who went through a cruel break-up, synths and rich harmonies bring it to an all new level live. Dragging a mediocre boy for failing to see her best friend's incredible worth? We love to see it. "You're an emotional grim reaper, I feel bad for you/I can't entertain these games/Hate to rain on your parade/It's just the way I'm feelin'."
After claiming she was willing to risk getting sick on the front row (bravo, we say), Holly thanks Lucy Blue for supporting her before declaring her love for Ireland's capital: "Your city is amazing".
She concludes with her first EP's title track, 'Falling Asleep At the Wheel', a Maisie Peters-esque jam with a riveting beat and vulnerable vocals. A booming 'Olé Olé Olé' chant ensues before Holly returns to the stage for her encore.
'The Walls Are Way Too Thin' marks the Humberstone finale in exhilarating fashion, making fine use of all her instruments and gadgets. The track focuses on feeling overwhelmed and isolated by your environment, from Holly's first stint of living in London with strangers. The audience are thrilled by every melody, and we can't blame them.
Whelan's will, no doubt, be the smallest Irish venue Holly Humberstone plays for a long time to come. If that's what her performance skills look like when she's fighting the urge to vomit, long may she reign. Bring on the next tour.
Stay tuned for the Hot Press interview with Holly Humberstone in the new issue of Hot Press, out November 26th.
Listen to The Walls Are Way Too Thin below, via Polydor:
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