Dermot Kennedy at O2 Arena
“Nothing’s changed, the rooms have just gotten bigger,” Dermot Kennedy comments while performing to a sold-out O2 Arena. Seven years ago he performed his first show in London to a crowd of 40. Perhaps just a little bit has changed.
There is something so wonderfully modest about Kennedy. Mid-set speeches don’t feel rehearsed and a “we want this to be good” sticker adorns his piano. His success may have been meteoric but there’s no pretentiousness: a packed O2 show, and he’s still playing beaten-up guitars – but it works. The appeal of the singer-songwriter is in the way he can tell a story, to transport an audience to a moment in time or create a sense of collective catharsis. The evident care and thought put into the production is simply a bonus. As the set list transitions between tenderness and joy, so, too, do the accompanying visuals. Each song is given its own part in the design, fuelling the emotion-soaked evening. Set opener Blossom sees Kennedy perform in almost complete darkness beneath a hazy spotlight, while grittier tracks such as Power over Me incorporate a riveting strobe display and massive LED screens. All eyes are on the headliner, who switches skilfully between instruments and delivers a faultless vocal performance, as a backing band and singers fill out the sound.
At times, the intimacy of his studio records doesn’t quite translate in the same way to live performance – after all, it is a big room – but the vulnerability of tracks like Rome, performed alone on a piano at the end of a small runway, keeps the magic alive. Kennedy has the ability to make a song feel both like an intrusion and as if your own diary is being read out-loud. Though it may be his show, the echo of the crowd singing along proves that his impassioned fans have warmly claimed shared ownership of the material.
Young and Free, a lesser-known B-side, is a surprising highlight as the artist croons alongside an acoustic guitar and blaring lights. Meanwhile, Better Days, no doubt holding poignant significance for many people over the past few years, allows for a heartwarming display of euphoria as those seated take to their feet. Forgoing an official encore, Kiss Me keeps the dance party going before the sombre Something to Someone closes the night out perfectly.
Dermot Kennedy is a storyteller, and he’s very good at it. Every song is crafted to make the listener feel, and so is his live show. Heavy on the production, simple on the presentation, it makes for a powerful combination. The rooms are getting bigger but Kennedy is holding his own; seven years ago they may have barely known his name but tonight 20,000 people are singing along to his every word.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit Dermot Kennedy’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Kiss Me here: