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Review: Dermot Kennedy at Scala

Friday 16 February 2018
Words Lucy Shanker

When the pre-concert music suddenly digressed from an upbeat, hip-hop track to the soft, melancholic chords of “Holocene” by Bon Iver, the hundreds of people crammed into the Scala grew quiet. Dermot Kennedy wasn’t even on stage yet, but the anticipation was enough to quiet a mass.

Kennedy’s bandmates strolled on stage adorned in plain white T-shirts, while Kennedy himself was clad in a black T-shirt and grey Nike sweatpants. There was no banner behind him, no strobe lights, no extravagant outfits. Under a single spotlight and without any introduction, Kennedy began.

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The Irish singer/songwriter put the room in a trance. He began acapella, and the whole room held its breath; there was not a single voice save for Kennedy’s staggering rasp. At the end of the first song, a surprised laugh rang out from the crowd; it was almost as if everyone was saying, “Wow, I went somewhere else for that.” As he started on the next song, the audience assumed the position: completely silent, mouths slightly ajar. You could hear a beer can drop. No seriously, at one point, someone dropped a beer can, and multiple people turned and said, “Shh!”

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Kennedy, too, noticed the reticence of the audience saying, “To be able to play a song that quietly in a room this big means the world to me.”

It was as if the crowd signed an agreement to not only remain quiet but also to put their phones away. For the hour he was on stage, hundreds of texts were being ignored, and there were no dull-lights illuminating faces in the audience. There was just tremendous amount of respect for Kennedy’s craft.

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His voice is fusion of Gary Lightbody and Foy Vance, but it’s intensified by his addition of production and a slightly hip-hop leaning beat. Kennedy’s set ranged from acoustic songs you can only find on YouTube to his 2017 EP Doves & Ravens and a few unreleased pieces. But one thing was consistent — each song is a cataclysm of emotion.

Kennedy has a way of making a heaving concert venue feel small. Between each song, he explained where his inspiration was drawn from; it was intimate and almost exclusive, like Kennedy was letting us in on a secret. His descriptions were vague but somehow remarkably relatable; he didn’t tell us everything, but it was just enough.

To preface “For Island Fires and Family,” Kennedy said in a soft and steady voice: “If you’re ever in a bad place, there’s some place or somebody that makes you feel better. It’s something that everybody’s got.”

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Kennedy’s connection to his fans is evident. While playing his closing hit “After Rain,” he whispered into the microphone, “Will you sing that with me?” In his seemingly pensive request, Kennedy sounded like he was asking an old friend for a favor.

Kennedy is playing a string of sold-out shows across the U.K. and the U.S., and now we understand why.