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Review: David Keenan

Review: David Keenan

More or less the whole of David Keenan’s travelling caravan came down to Maddens after their show at The Duncairn on Saturday night. Lemoncelloparked themselves upstairs at the table near the session playing in the corner. It was mild enough for Harry Hobanand others to patronise the smoking area, while more stools were found at the table upstairs for the wanderers, next to the pipes and the guitar cases. Mr Keenan was standing, deep in the talk that a musician gets caught in with an audience member who’d seen him perform earlier on. Junior Brotherappeared from nowhere at the table, recalling the last time he’d played The Duncairn, recalling the gathering afterwards.

In the programme we’d described Saturday’s gig as: “three David Keenan’s for one.”  It was a night of three versions of one man. The first was the version that performed with Lemoncello, who carried their organic, natural spell to the stage with Laura Quirke’s warm water vocals and Claire Kinsella’s subtly shaded cello. As well as performing with the main man though, the duo also opened the show before Keenan stepped on stage, easing us into the first of several moods that evening. 

“Morning, morning/ Cobweb mouth is yawning/Come out from under your heavy dreams dear.” The last of the sell-out seats were filling in the darkened rear of the room as Lemoncello painted this watercolour on stage. Along with tracks from their EP, Stuck Upon The Staircase, they gifted us with a new one. “It’s about how faulted we are as human beings,” Quirke smiled. “It’s not depressing, it’s just how it is.” A markedly different song emerged. More robust, shaded. A musing more than a recollection. A firmer pillow to lay your head on and wait for what’s to come.

A pindrop, hushed, absolute calm enveloped the room as they played. Not one note, one breath was to be missed, and this was a theme applied throughout the night. After a short break Keenan took to the stage, opening with Lawrence of Arcadia. The room listened hard, trying to catch those words - it’s important to catch David Keenan’s words – but not always possible. “You can’t kill a killer,” repeated and graduated down to quiet, whispered. The last long chord given space and silence to eventually stop ringing round the room. The show had begun.


By the time he played Cobwebshe had called Lemoncello to join him, shifting the axis of the show again. Junior Brother was there too, having moved from behind the drums to front of stage with the Melodica. Gareth Quinn Redmond’s violin ran between them all, effecting and affective. And again, the absorbed silence of the room allowed the showman in Keenan to ply his trade as he whispered into the microphone at the end of the song, gesticulating for people to move towards him. The room, wise to his ways, knew not to jump to applaud. Leaving all the space and air needed for the words and the feelings to run. But it was Postcards From Catalonia from Keenan’s recent EP, Evidence OF Living, that struck me with the harmonies. The instruments had stopped, and the spotlight was on the voices. Different from the recorded version with Laura Quirke’s added layer helping the song ring harder but not louder.


Then came the next manifestation as Lemoncello left the stage and Harry Hoban took up the keys while Graham Hopkins settled behind the drum kit. The mood altered with the addition of good deep drums, ice-cream sharp notes from the keyboard, and totally unexpected effects-peddle majesty from Gareth Quinn Redmond’s violin.  At one point Keenan removed his mic from the stand and his voice sounded vaguely loudhailer. I looked away and turned back to realise he was on the floor amid the audience, the guitar tech feverishly directing the mic lead behind him. David Keenan’s showman was in full force. Standing on a chair he commanded a call and response from the crowd, repeating and questioning, encouraging and demanding. “Yes,” the room would shout back, then he’d command the answer again. Eventually back on stage that impressive effects peddle was warping the violin again, keeping the mood frenetic and the audience wound up. Later he had the room eating out of the palm of his hand when he asked a young audience member to come and join him on stage. Turns out the boy could sing, could handle an audience, could take stick, and knew all the words. Keenan had the grace to leave him verses to sing, allowed the guy to shine. He did. And the room loved them for that, both of them.


I could go on, but you get the picture. Saturday night was a cleverly curated display by some of Ireland’s finest emerging talents, each forging their distinct careers, but all brought under the one roof by the power of the songs of David Keenan. Interestingly, in January 2018 a crew of 15 or so people from The Duncairn travelled to Dublin to see Mr Keenan play Whelans. It was the first time I’d seen Junior Brother. I elbowed people out of the way at the merch table for that E.P.  Amongst other artists on stage with him that night was Harry Hoban. If they’re all as tight and supportive a community of artists as they appear, we can look forward to a lot more to come. Meantime though, thanks David Keenan for bringing all this to Belfast.

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