3Olympia Theatre, Dublin
They have come in their droves, in their cowboy hats and some even in their cowboy boots, to worship at the altar of their heroine. And what an altar it is: tonight’s show is described as the “CMAT panto” by Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, but really you could imagine some version of this spectacle – a neon sign bearing her name, an Austrian curtain backdrop and a stepped podium with a mirror at its peak – playing in a hotel off the strip in 1970s Las Vegas. If the entertainer debated the merits of the train vs the Aircoach and facetiously described themselves as “pop music’s answer to Charlie Haughey”, that is.
That’s the thing about CMAT. Since she emerged in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic with the frivolous-yet-discerning Another Day (KFC), there has always been the sense that she is a millennial pop star with the soul of an old-fashioned entertainer.
This sold-out four-night homecoming run caps off a huge year in which she won Irish album of the year for her 2022 debut, released a superb second album in Crazymad, for Me, played some high-profile UK gigs and made some high-profile TV appearances as she spread her gospel farther afield.
Amid it all Thompson clearly understands the need to put on a show: the curtain lifts to the strains of Sheena Easton’s 9 to 5, revealing her (excellent) four-piece band dressed like characters from a Wes Anderson film as she makes her glorious entrance, launching headlong into California and I Hate Who I Am When I’m Horny – and making a startling confession about Dustin the Turkey with the latter.
In a lot of ways, CMAT is the antithesis of an “Irish musician”. We are used to our stars maintaining a certain sense of humility and deference, lest they be saddled with the dreaded label of “notions”. On the contrary, Thompson is fully aware that she is a pop superstar; she introduces I Don’t Really Care for You, for example, by shouting, “Dublin city, would you like to hear the greatest song of all time?” The swagger in her self-confident stagecraft is a joy to behold as she performs dance routines with her keyboardist, twirls and preens, does the splits and gladly accepts the adoration of the crowd.
The pomp and bluster would feel hollow if the songs simply weren’t good enough, but that’s not the case. The songcraft is a match for the stagecraft, and Thompson is a technically brilliant singer as well as an emotive one. She dispenses the slinky, soulful groove of Can’t Make Up My Mind, the strummed balladry of Such a Miranda and the 1980s-themed duet of Where Are Your Kids Tonight? (excellent keyboardist Colm Conlan singing John Grant’s part) with a satisfying fluency, while the encore brings the show-stopping Rent and a mass singalong of her best-known tune, I Wanna Be a Cowboy Baby, encouraging the crowd to rise to their feet and sway for the “Dunboyne, Co Meath, two-step”. She may have lamented the fact that she was “always the cowboy, never the cow” in that song, but tonight’s triumphant homecoming confirms CMAT as one of our best entertainers and one of our brightest musical stars.