Dermot Kennedy's live performance swung between energetic and emotional

The Irish singer's popularity has exploded over the past year.

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Laura Roberts

Last March, a relatively unknown Dermot Kennedy played to a small crowd at Brunswick’s Howler. His performance was captivating, and the sense that big things were in store for the musician lingered long after the concert was over.

Almost a year later and the Dublin native paid another visit to Melbourne, this time selling out the Croxton Bandroom in Thornbury. His return show was as magical as before, cementing Kennedy as one to watch in 2019.

The night started with a short and sweet set from Melbourne’s own Gretta Ray. She was a late replacement for British singer Sam Fender, who cancelled his Australian shows. Stepping in for an international support act must’ve been somewhat intimidating, but Ray held her own as always, playing a small selection of tracks. She opened with ‘Fitzroy’, followed by ‘Towers’, ‘Unwind’ and ‘Radio Silence’, which a few audience members sung along to. Everyone pepped up for ‘Drive’ though, singing the lyrics back to her. Though Ray’s vocals were faultless, she did seem to be holding back a little in her delivery, stopping herself from dancing around too much or singing too soulfully.

The audience were growing restless as they waited for Kennedy to arrive, but it all dissipated when the lights dimmed and the band came on, followed by the Irishman himself. He launched into ‘All My Friends’, which the crowd screamed back at him with wild enthusiasm. It was an incredibly receptive bunch, who shrieked and cheered at every powerful note that Kennedy hit.

‘A Closeness’ was next, met with more noise from the audience, before a hush fell across the room and Kennedy broke into ‘Shelter’. It was quite magical to witness this captivating effect he had, transforming a swarm of screams into the silent stillness of bated breath.

This was the general tone for the rest of the night, as he bounced between songs of euphoric highs and awe-inspiring vocals, to stripped back acoustics and emotional lyrics. He absolutely exerted himself for tracks like ‘Young and Free’ and ‘Power Over Me’, with sweat dripping visibly off his forehead as he performed. This enthusiasm and energy was met by the rollicking crowd, who chanted along loudly.

Other songs warranted quiet moments, like ‘Boston’ and ‘For Island Fires and Family’. A newly released but not-so newly written track, it was nothing short of breathtaking to see Kennedy strum his way through ‘For Island Fires and Family’, appearing completely vulnerable. ‘Dancing Under Red Skies’ was another particularly intimate tune, yet to be released into the world. The outro for this one bled beautifully into the intro for ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’, making it difficult to tell where one song ended, and another began.

Kennedy played fervently throughout his entire set, but really gave his all for the last two tracks. ‘Glory’ was full of sweeping highs and bellowing vocals, which were echoed by the audience, filling the Croxton with a cacophony of voices.

It was a similar story for ‘After Rain’, his final song of the night. The musician invited the crowd to join him for the last few lyrics (although no one really needed an invitation), and the room swelled with the words “you won’t go lonely here". Someone kept yelling out “one more time Dermy!” to which Kennedy obliged, playing the closing chords over and over again. The joy on his face was evident, grinning blissfully as the crowd sung his own lyrics back to him.

As the audience dispersed and the lights went up, that feeling of greater potential once again hung in the air – maybe next time he’ll be selling out The Forum.

Highlight: ‘For Island Fires and Family’ – had chills for this one.

Lowlight: One small group who weren’t being particularly respectful of Dermot or other punters.

Crowd Favourite: ‘After Rain’.