Review: Damien Dempsey – Limelight, Belfast

Dublin singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey has hit the road for the second time to support his 2017 album Soulsun, following the unfortunate postponement of his Belfast Summer show in June.

Self-proclaimed Derry-man Declan McLoughlin was support for the night. The set was intimate, making the Limelight feel like a pub; his friends adding to the atmosphere as they chanted “Go on Decky!” inbetween tunes. Much like Dempsey, McLoughlin’s music is ethically challenging and folky although with an American country delivery. Nice moments of the set included ‘Jailbird’ with its picked acoustic guitar lines and the catchy ‘Big City Cocaine’.

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Main man Damo was up next, starting strong with classic Dubliners cover ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’; a track given a shot of live testosterone with Damo’s strong grunts in the chorus during “Hoont the Hare”. The traditional 4-piece rock band was embellished with a tin whistler, one that would later lift uilleann pipes to flesh out Damo’s contemporary Irish sound.

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Introducing his hit ‘Sing All Our Cares Away’, Damo compared singing to “giving your soul a cuddle”. The lovely number culminated in Damo edging the stage and starting the chorus, allowing the crowd to finish as he removed his earpiece to hear them. Once the track was over Damo had to take a step back and regain himself, loving what he heard.

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A unique moment of the night brought an apology from Damo incase he forgot any lyrics as the next song was quite long. He urged the crowd to sing along if they knew the chorus, starting into Soulsun’s closing track ‘Soft Rain’. Damo took a poetic gamble on this track as he talked through the beautiful cityscape and landmasses, unfortunately not receiving much support; though hopefully this track will one day be as recognised as his others.

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The middle of the show brought the heart-breaking ‘Chris and Stevie’, an acoustic ballad that builds into an inspiringly bittersweet force to be reckoned with. Tears were held back on this track with the raw emotional delivery given by Dempsey, felt by the crowd as they met the core message of the song “to all young people, be proud of who you are” with outrageous applause.

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The second half of the set brought pumpy reggae-folk ‘Patience’ and ‘Negative Vibes’, both of which received Dempsey’s edge-of-the-stage singalongs in the choruses. ‘Patience’ featured rough and gruff rap verses met with idyllic jaunty choruses; while ‘Negative Vibes’ had a more mellow verse and a harsher chorus, with a second chorus containing a nice choral sound boosted by the crowd.

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The night was stolen by the encore though, first with the anger of ‘Colony’. This song saw almost everyone in the Limelight sing word-for-word the seven-minute track about fighting colonial oppression. Peak moments in this number saw Damo roaring into the microphone with his incredibly passionate delivery for messages he believes in.

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The final track of the night was ‘It’s All Good’, a track that soothed the rage of ‘Colony’ and cleansed the souls of anger. The lovely ballad ended with a sudden rise in tempo as the crowd pre-emptively sang “Love yourself today, okay, okay”, the drums went into a fast and funky beat and the uilleann pipes took a solo. Dempsey neatly wrapped up the set with one final belt of “Love yourself today” before leaving the stage. That wasn’t enough for the crowd though as they continued to chant for Damo’s return. Realising there would be no more Damo this night, they – we – started back into chanting “Love yourself today, okay, okay” feeling nothing but inspiration, hope, and camaraderie.

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Damien Dempsey was fantastic; his delivery was beyond passionate. The crowd loved him, chanting “Daaay-mooo” after every few songs, authentically emulating a football stadium rather than a concert. As for song choice I was hoping for more off Soulsun (two tracks were off the album), but his setlist was fan-pleasing without a doubt and even had some curveballs with a Pogues cover and a request for ‘Hold Me’ which was performed intimately solo. Once again it was fantastic and the atmosphere Damo crafted was heartfelt, he really is the cutest fella that can knock your block off.

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Iontach maith Damo, iontach maith.