- 14 Sep 23
David Keenan's illuminary show at the National Concert Hall was engaging, moving and a true testament to his talent and stage presence.
The NCH was completely dark, save for a single spotlight beaming down centre stage. The audience, completely quiet, held their collective breath as David Keenan walked on and grabbed his acoustic guitar. He stared out at the audience filling the historic music hall and let out an audible, shaky exhale into the mic.
And then he began– and it’s glorious. He launched into his hit ‘The Friary’, a recognizable tune that immediately established his magnetism. He had an undeniable stage presence right from the start: you couldn’t tear your eyes away from him if you wanted to.
The National Concert Hall is a strikingly different type of venue than where Keenan usually performs. He’s used to stages in which fans can sing along with him every word without fear of judgement; he graced the Croí stage at Electric Picnic earlier this month and just concluded a series of shows around Ireland and beyond. But the NCH is used to operas and similar black-tie events, and subsequently, there’s a palpable nervousness amongst the audience about how they’re ‘allowed’ to react to the performance.
The song arrived at a moment of silence. “I’LL MEET YOU AT THE FRIARY,” yelled a man in the far back with an impressively carrying voice. “Good man,” Keenan joked back, and just like that any lingering stiffness was gone. It’s a testament to his stage presence, the way he was able to transform the NCH into a lively space complete with singalongs and dancing.
He seamlessly launched into another track, and the guitar was an extension of him. Some musicians hide behind their guitars, but he wears his like a third limb. He is by no means the first twenty-something-year-old lad to sing over an acoustic guitar, but his expressiveness, charisma and sheer talent clearly set him apart. The acoustics in the room were noticeably incredible, giving his gorgeously expressive voice the space to linger.
After a few solo acoustic songs, the full band emerged, and he’s only strengthened by their presence. There is no longer any doubt whether he’ll be able to fit the massive space– in fact, the space moulds to fit him. It seems he’s finally found a stage big enough to hold him, though the high roof and rows of seats were bursting at the seams from the sheer power within.
Keenan has the discography to fill a 90-minute set, with three critically acclaimed full-length albums out since his debut in 2020. His most recent, Crude, was released last December and is filled with his own personal brand of wandering storytelling and heartfelt introspection that has now become recognisable.
I personally very much enjoyed 'James Dean' and its imaginative imagery, and the unflinching vulnerability of 'Philomena' nearly brought me to tears. It's an emotional tune about and named after his grandmother; "If there's a heaven, she's in it," he introduced the song, and I swallowed a lump in my throat.
The show continued to impress. He brought out multiple special guests for collaborations, including pal Junior Brother on 'Postcards from Catalonia' ("I love this man," declared Junior). On the last song of the show, he was on a mission to dissolve any social barriers not only between performer and audience but within the audience itself. He implored everyone to join hands with the person next to them and tell them you love them- it didn't matter if you were married or had never met this person before in your life. It was a lovely, slightly absurd moment that had every single person in the room swaying along to the performance as one.
I admittedly wasn't sure if the NCH was an encore kind of venue, but sure enough, Keenan reemerged after no more than thirty seconds offstage and delivered a dutiful, fantastic cover of Sinead O'Connor's Mandika that had everyone on their feet and dancing.
"God bless Sinead O'Connor. This is for her."
As the lights came back on post-encore and people started filtering out of the room, I overheard multiple people gushing over the energy of the room, marvelling at how accessible and lively of a space Keenan was able to create at an unlikely venue. We are in agreement: this NCH performance of his is definitely a career-high, and yet, there's a widespread sense amongst the audience we're witnessing the flight of something- someone- special.