Review: Dermot Kennedy – Limelight, Belfast

It was a dreamy night to be had by all in Limelight, courtesy of Dermot Kennedy’s Belfast stop on his biggest European headlining tour to date. Performing at Longitude Festival before selling out shows in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, London and Manchester (to name but a few), Kennedy was now back on home-soil after a hugely successful summer. For one night only it was now Belfast’s turn to be hypnotised by the Irish singer-songwriter, with support from Cork gal LYRA set to make this an unforgettable Sunday night, enough to distract from the impending doom of a Monday.

Following his first release on Spotify with 2015 single An Evening I Will Not Forget, 25 year old Kennedy has since crafted his debut EP Doves & Ravens, released 14th April 2017. Kennedy’s previous releases provide impressive stepping-stones towards the EP, which perfectly showcases captivatingly delicate vocals trickling through explosive urban production.

It would seem there is a depth to this young Dubliner that doesn’t run out, with his latest release on 19th September, Moments Passed, becoming Zane Lowe’s World Record as well as making it to #1 on The A-List on Apple Music (and the hearts of many, no doubt).

Clear hard work and passion has projected Kennedy from busker to sell out, worldwide shows in a matter of years, a story his dedicated and ever-growing following are clearly invested in. Despite gigging solo since before college, it seems with every single show Kennedy is quick to announce his appreciation and gratitude to his supporters, who are genuinely happy to see him succeeding. With heart like that and Kennedy’s exceptional talent, it’s not hard to see why the whole world is eating him up.

Lyra - Dermot Kennedy - Limelight, Belfast

The intimate venue of Limelight 2 was perfect for the night ahead, albeit strange without the scent of chocolate tequila and echoes of Tenacious D ringing through the air. Keeping it local with an Irish support act, it was roughly about 0.5 seconds into LYRA’s set before the whole venue was positively floored by her vocals. The crowd were barely given a minute to process the small, timid blonde girl with a microphone ordained in flowers before her first song reverberated around the cramped venue.

LYRA asserted her status as an immense powerhouse the minute she stepped on stage, her vocals endearingly juxtaposed with her shy, nervous chat in between songs. We had an Irish Florence and the Machine on our hands, florals and quirks included, as we heard songs from her 2016 EP W.I.L.D. Songs such as Rabbit in the Headlights and Whitelady showcased ridiculously immense depths and heights to her voice, arms gliding in the air with the music.

Despite the nerves LYRA certainly knew and felt her music, owning the stage with movements that performed by anyone else would liken them to Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Man almost immediately. Performing a beautifully simple and delicate cover of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You in between her own songs, it was clear this was a voice that had the power to echo throughout arenas, with the crowd immersed in hypnotic beats and mesmerising notes throughout. Heads up, LYRA, your fanbase is set to grow.

The size of the venue soon became evident as the crowd anticipated Kennedy’s entrance. There’s nothing like the air of anticipation infused with the sweat of cramped strangers to get you going for a headliner.  A headliner that slipped on stage so quietly that he was already positioned at his keyboard, microphone at the ready before the crowd even realised Dermot Kennedy was in the building. Kicking it off with An Evening I Will Not Forget, Kennedy dove straight in and immediately transformed the vibe of the room with one note.

While, disappointingly, there is always a buzz of chat at more intimate gigs like this, Kennedy’s voice was commanding enough to drown them out, carried by the subtle keyboard that provides the base to the song. The whole crowd were pretty captivated from the first note, bursting into thunderous applause before Kennedy could even utter a ‘thank you’ as he finished.

Dermot Kennedy - Limelight, Belfast2

It wasn’t long before Kennedy was joined by his band, showcasing a discography that surpasses quantity with sheer quality and playing singles such as A Closeness, Moments Passed and Shelter. A self-proclaimed 50/50 mix of Bon Iver and Drake, Kennedy comfortably juxtaposes vulnerable, raw vocals with powerfully explosive hip hop beats, creating songs that go beyond a mere start, middle and end. What defines Kennedy’s discography is thus the lyricism of a poet with the amazing production of a seasoned musician, creating the perfect potion that tells a captivating, heartfelt story with every release.

Some may say Kennedy’s impressive ability to strike such a beautiful balance between the delicate and the powerful is perhaps testament to his classic music degree past, but it’s clear it goes beyond that. There is a significant depth and passion to Kennedy when he sings, a hypnotic concentration that has the crowd wrapped round his little finger.

Crowd interaction was kept brief but refreshingly meaningful. Kennedy replaces typical gimmicks with artistic background, placing most songs he played into a heartfelt and emotional context that wasn’t only meaningful to himself, but inclusive of the crowd and general human experience.

Brief shouts from the crowd allowed Kennedy’s timid personality to shine through, responding to unexpected comments with an awkward smile that may well have made the whole room weak at the knees. This is a man with undeniable talent that goes beyond songwriting and into musical production, stage presence and feeling, enough to make anyone within a ten foot radius fall in love with him (even in that delightfully sweaty grey jumper.)

There was a charming irony in the fact someone so awkward has the power to command a whole room, the crowd swaying to every word as the set came to a close with single Glory. Naturally, lighthearted booing ensued as Kennedy announced he had reached his last song, with one final request – ‘is it cool if we sing something together?’

Concluding his set with a song he wrote ‘about hope and the people who help you to be hopeful when it’s hard to’, the crowd sang together with Kennedy, clinging onto every word. An explosive bridge in After Rain diminished to a soft, delicate melody as the crowd finished the final song together with the headliner for the night.

It was no surprise that there was no encore from Dermot Kennedy, with every minute of the set instead dedicated to telling his musical stories, making for an intense, powerful experience that buzzed around the venue long after Kennedy left the stage with a quiet ‘thank you so much.’ Kennedy’s music takes you places, and it’s for that reason it can be said with certainty that it’ll take him straight to the top.