Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Live from the trenches

There are certain rituals which only occur at this time of year. I know Christmas is on its way when Old Moore’s Almanac appears in the shops (dude tells us that next summer is going to be a hot one …

Mon, Dec 15, 2008, 10:14


There are certain rituals which only occur at this time of year. I know Christmas is on its way when Old Moore’s Almanac appears in the shops (dude tells us that next summer is going to be a hot one and he hasn’t been wrong since 1947) and when the Countryman’s Christmas CD lands in the letterbox from the wild, wild west (this year, Nero’s festive compilation bigs up Erykah Badu, Fuck Buttons, Lykke Li, The Black Keys, Spook of the Thirteenth Lock and “The Thing” from Urbs and Cutex). Then, there are also a couple of event gigs on the agenda, live shows where, for one reason or another, it’s all a bit special and festive and a cut above the normal jib. We had a couple of them this weekend in this dirty old town and I’m sure you can add your own to this list.

Over the last couple of years, this fanboy has seen Josh Ritter play in some downright incongruous places – a beach volleyball court in Austin, Texas, a rugby club in Tullamore and in front of 50,000 bemused kids at an all-day pop event in the Phoenix Park – but Ritter, his band and a 24 piece orchestra at his spiritual home in Vicar Street was always going to be a good bet. I didn’t expect it, though, to be a show which had me wondering if I could rewrite my gigs of the year list. Every musician fancies themselves as someone who will sound better all strung-out and with brass in the attic, but Ritter presented a masterclass in how to adopt to the fact that there are 24 people in tuxedos sitting around waiting for your lead.

It was a luxurious chocolate box of an occasion, the orchestra adding nougat and cream to the material, swooning and soaring in all the right places. Even without the plump fabrics you tend to get when there are lots of violins, cellos and a big gong to utilise, there was gold in the stitching. A rendition of “Thin Blue Flame” with Kenneth Rice supplying solo violin peaks was something akin to “The Healing Has Begun”. Support act Colm Mac Con Iomaire (whose own set was immense in that quiet understated way of the Frame and Swell Season player) wandered on to read an 18th century love poem from deepest Kerry with the orchestra colouring in the shadows behind it. That kind of a night.

But what really shone in these surroundings were those songs of Ritter’s. Any old duffer can book an orchestra and swing to make out like Morricone. It’s a different matter, though, when you hear songs you’re already well acquainted with take brand new routes to the higher ground with the aid of strings and things. A show that was good for the heart from start to finish and which augers well for Ritter’s future moves. An album with just him, an orchestra and some brass? Sure, why not?

Time will come when Lisa Hannigan too will perform with an orchestra at her beck and call. Her show at the same venue on Saturday night was another event gig, the hall full to bursting with folks who’d followed her from the days as a sidekick or heard her new songs on the radio or were simply smitten by the musical juggling and promenading of her “Sea Sew” album. She’s had quite a year and this sell-out crowd wanted to share some of it with her. There were lanterns over the stage, a showing of a cute new video for “Ocean & A Rock” (I’ll post it once I find it online) before she came onstage and freshly laundered kit all round. The omens were good.

Sadly, the gig never quite reached the zones which were mapped out for it. Chalk it down to nerves (Hannigan seemed as nervous as a bag of kittens for the first half of the show) and high expectations because this singer and her band certainly have the chops after spending most of this year on the road. It’s a hard one to analyse because the source code for this show is much the same as it was in Dundalk’s Spirit Store in July and that was one of the magical gigs of the year.

But while the rooms and audiences have increased in size, the material and performance haven’t quite yet upscaled in the same way. That will come with time and patience because there’s no doubting Hannigan’s ability or drive to do just that. She’s set to spend much of 2009 in the United States – the album is released there on January 20 and the touring and overnight bus journeys resume in February – and the rigours of the road will see her right. Certainly, Hannigan seems to have picked the right side of the Atlantic to concentrate on first.

Later on Saturday night, happy with the news that Barca had won el classico, I finally caught up with the R.S.A.G. live show at the penultimate 52Funk night in the basement of Kennedy’s. Jeremy Hickey’s “Organic Sampler” is one of the albums of the year, but his live show puts the whole experience on another scale entirely. Elvin Jones picking his way through the Talking Heads and Afrobeat songbooks by way of post-punk shenanigans in the old New Park Inn in Kilkenny, R.S.A.G. is a man with a ton of funk under the bonnet. It’s just him and a bunch of loops, a one-man rhythm machine a-twitching and a-switching his way through these magnificent, muscular songs. Every one of them was super-charged and electric to make this a show which had plenty of eating and drinking to it. Lets hope Hickey’s 2009 will see him getting that album and this show to many places out foreign.

Every great show needs swagger, menace, men in black and a full room singing along to songs about parental abandonment. So it was with Glasvegas at The Academy last night, the Scottish quiffs putting on probably the best 35 minutes of white light and white heat this season. Yes, I know there will be fuming about the relative brevity of the show but they’re just got one album under their leather jacket oxters and I’d prefer 35 minutes of Glasvegas to 90 minutes of The Script (or even support band White Lies, who may be highly tipped for Zero Nine but seemed more style than substance on this viewing). With Glasvegas, it’s all a pleasure to behold, from the songs, which know that classic rock’n'roll has to have a smirk as well as a sneer, to the poses perfectly plucked from the stagecraft of the greats like The Clash. They’re a band who are in thrall to rock’s past but who have the gumption to realise it can’t all be homages and pastiches. I’d say they’ll take the roof off the Barrowlands in Glasgow when they play a seasonal homecoming show there tomorrow night.