Damien Dempsey at Shepherds Bush Empire -The Guardian 4* review John MD and Drums

Posted on Feb 23, 2013 in News

Damien Dempsey at Shepherds Bush Empire -The Guardian 4* review    John MD and Drums

Damien Dempsey is best experienced playing live. I first saw him in the summer of 2004 in a backroom bar on Dublin’s north side, near his home, where the young crowd screamed as though he was a boyband pinup rather than an angry balladeer singing songs about neighbourhood problems of fights and drugs. He’s a former boxer with a burly physique and cropped hair, but claimed that “underneath the rough exterior there’s a soft, sensitive sort of soul. It gets battered with the things I see.”

Ten years on, his career has been transformed, but he looks and sounds much the same. His new double album, bravely titled It’s All Good – The Best of Damien Dempsey, is at the top of the Irish charts, and he is backed by a band including his celebrated producer, John Reynolds, on drums. Tonight’s crowd are yelling “Dam-O, Dam-O”, just like in that Dublin backroom a decade ago.

He has succeeded because he is a curious hybrid. Concentrating on old favourites from the new compilation, he proves that he is one of the most thoughtful singer-songwriters of his generation, but that he can bash out anthems like an Irish folk Springsteen. He can also provoke a mass singalong with just the merest suggestion that his audience should join in, a skill worthy of Pete Seeger. He has such an imposing presence that it doesn’t matter if his voice is sometimes way out of tune, or when his band occasionally indulge in a messy folk-rock workout, as on Maasai. It would be good to see him calm down occasionally, and show some of the delicacy of his admirer Christy Moore; but no matter. From the glorious singalong Apple of My Eye to a raucous Rocky Road to Dublin, this was an exhilarating set.