The Gloaming take the room to roam
A report from the stalls on the second of The Gloaming’s three sold-out shows at Dublin’s National Concert Hall
Back to the old house. The National Concert Hall is where the symbosis between this band and that room becomes clear again. At every stage of their existence, The Gloaming have headed to Earlsfort Terrace to make their stand. It’s where they kicked things off in 2011, it’s where they kicked things on in some style in January 2014 and it’s where we get a glimpse of what’s yet to come on this three night stand. Everyone wants in so the tickets for this series of shows, naturally enough, sold out in jig-time. The Gloaming are now a band with reach and reputation and could probably fill larger rooms than here by now. That they don’t give into such temptations is perhaps to be applauded.
Both a lot and not a lot has changed since these five first set out together on their route. You’ve the same five men onstage. You’ve still the same powerful, instictive understanding between the players, the riotous and righteous energy when the mood hits them and those moments of great subtlety and beauty when the music moves you and them to higher ground without any need for resource for the boost button.
It’s what has changed, though, which holds the most promise for more nights like this to come in the years ahead. For these shows, The Gloaming have discovered a new momentum by digging into the space between the notes on a rake of new material which adds to the arsenal deployed to great effect on the debut album from last year. They could have simply taken the existing music and thrown it higher towards the rafters, utilising the talent of their trump cards to their utmost. But instead, they’ve turned their heads to bringing in fresh material and applying a forensic lens to what they can do with these new tracts.
It’s a practice clear in the tones of how Iarla Ó Lionaird paints songs which are new to this set or the glow of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s fiddle as it picks and plots a path through the notes. Thomas Bartlett‘s piano playing is highly physical as he twists and turns his body in a battle against the keys, but this craftwork punctuates the songs with a flourish. Dennis Cahill‘s guitar is also a crucial ingredient to this state of affairs, a strong, constant bridge between where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
What’s really interesting to observe in all of the new shuffling and shapeshifting and realligning is Martin Hayes’ place within this firmament. A year ago, his playing was the big draw, the master at work in the middle of an equally talented collective, who was pushing all on higher and higher in search of some sort of new fangled nirvana which could only to be reached by engaging fully with the sound and giving yourself freely to the breeze. Now, he yields more space to the others onstage and their splashes of colour are dictating a lot of the pace and patterns, with Hayes adding to rather than dictating the pace. All of which means that when Hayes does cut loose – and he pounces with panache several times tonight to embark on a mazy, magnetic, mesmerising odyssey – he and they truly ignite. In the decades to come, we’ll surely talk of having seen this man in the way others talk of Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix or John Coltrane.
Back to the old house? More like burning down the house, in fairness. The Gloaming now come retooled and re-upped for the long run. There was never really a danger, to be honest, that they’d have simply kept to the old script and calcified – players of this calibre always require room to roam and that calls for new scripts at regular intervals – but it could have gone any way. A show the band did at St Canice’s Cathedral during the Kilkenny Arts Festival last August was an example of a kind of possible stasis which could have occured. A bevy of guest turns of varying quality and ability that night robbed the band of their potency and power in favour of collaborations which didn’t have the DNA or the playing ability to come up to the mark. Trust me, you don’t want to experience that again.
What we want from The Gloaming are the bare bones. We simply want the five musicians who were onstage last night playing at the top of their game, taking the templates apart and putting them back together again with great displays of stitching and welding. It’s a lot to ask for, but when you get all of this on a cold March Sunday night, you know you’re doing well.
The Gloaming back-pages: interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh from September 2014 with links to his two albums released in 2014; Banter podcast interview with Iarla O Lionaird from September 2014; interview with the band from August 2014; Banter podcast interviews with Martin Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh from Other Voices Derry 2014 and Other Voices London 2013 respectively and interview with Hayes from August 2013