- 22 Dec 14
Rockabilly revivalist is the toast of her hometown crowd
A few minutes before showtime, I was struggling to find some sort of short, snappy summary of the extraordinarily varied crowd assembled at 3Arena for Imelda May. At which point a pair of ten-year-olds asked Gay Byrne if he’d pose for a selfie.
That takes care of that, then.
There’s a real air of community spirit in the venue; coupled with the festive cheer, it begins to resemble a parish hall. It’s a feeling that, once it’s crossed your mind, proves difficult to shake.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. May’s immeasurable appeal has always been anchored in her familiarity, and an RTÉ show certainly hasn’t hurt in terms of exposure. Wisely, the performance follows the model of TV, as the Liberties lass – clad in a sparkling red dress, looking like something from the top of Liberace’s Christmas tree – sprinkles the evening with anecdotes, banter, and general loveliness, proving she could charm the birds from the trees.
It’s probably just as well, because the music won’t get the job done on its own. Make no mistake, it’s perfectly sound – her voice dextrous and powerful, the band as tight as a drum – but there’s a limit to what it can achieve. ‘Tribal’, ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’ open proceedings, but it doesn’t change much from there. While the rockabilly revival that underpins May’s style might have its merits, there seems to be only one gear. It’s not until the legendary Jeff Beck makes a surprise appearance that there’s a notable shift.
To the massive hometown crowd, though, it matters little. In the vast expanse of 3Arena, achieving the sort of intimacy and connection that May enjoys with her fans is no easy feat, but she manages it effortlessly. They’ve not come to see a superstar – they’ve come to see one of their own, and in that respect they could scarcely ask for more.