“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home,” so wrote James Joyce in 1922′s Ulysses. This clear-eyed statement seems like scaffolding for Dexys’ most recent record, The Feminine Divine, and this show, which sees Kevin Rowland having a reckoning with ... himself.
The Feminine Divine emerged out of a period of crisis some years ago, where grief drove Rowland to an introspective place, a space that saw him reconsider many ideas, including his relationship to masculinity.
In the first half of Monday night’s show, that reappraisal takes many forms; from the sartorial choices some of the band wear (cowboy, lumberjack, dandy), to the rooting around of the new record, which unfolds into a kind of old-fashioned theatrical revue with three parts: Getting Honest, Attitude to Women and the Relationship.
Dexys and Rowland have always had something of a theatrical flair since their 1980 debut, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, and tonight sees them go full tilt towards that spirit.
There is a thread of formal dialogue running between songs, folding in saxophonist Sean Read, keyboardist Michael Timothy and violinist Claudia Chopek, the latter acting as a female foil to Rowland’s male protagonist, who begins entrenched in an oppressive sense of masculinity before moving to somewhere more vulnerable and beautiful, perhaps most persuasively rendered in torch song My Submission, which soars. I’m Going to Get Free is gorgeous, and the louche nature of My Goddess Is conjures up a little George Clinton, and a little early Prince, with Rowland flying across the stage like Nureyev, conveying an infectious sense of renewed wonder and inspiration.
What makes this even more pleasing is Rowland’s reappraisal of some of Dexys’ previous work, which forms the second half – from their love letter to Geno Washington to Come on Eileen, a song that is firmly part of the canon, it all sounds so gloriously free. And freedom in all its forms is a theme that recurs for Dexys, from female emancipation, to the freedom in being frail, to slipping the shackles of society’s mores, and even the freedom to be found in meeting Dexys Midnight Runners now as Dexys – a meta-universe which Rowland and band brilliantly inhabit.
Part of that brilliance is also to be found in the choices of covers Dexys have historically chosen, and Van Morrison’s Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) has never sounded better, with its raggle-taggle soulful beauty and trademark mingling of violin and brass.
The show closes with Rowland taking us to Carrickfergus, with his moving and profound rendering of that folk song reminding us of his roots; roots he has always so deeply held, from 1985′s My National Pride, to 2016′s Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul.
Rowland’s spiritual journey from Crossmolina to Wolverhampton and back again truly embodies the spirit of the “long-distance men” that his father told him stories about, the “longest way round” is indeed “the shortest way home”.