Dermot Kennedy @ MTelus – 18th October 2019

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Dermot Kennedy at MTelus

Dermot Kennedy‘s debut album, Without Fear, originally scheduled to be released on September 27 was pushed back one week to “make sure everything’s perfect” as he stated in an Instagram post. One week later on October 4th, my patience had been tested but it was well worth the wait. Take all the time you need, Dermot. We have been blessed. 

I got chills watching his NPR Tiny Desk Concert session – so you can imagine what I experienced live. The first time I saw Dermot Kennedy live was at Falls Festival in January of this year. His powerful voice was nothing like I’ve ever heard before. 

I’ve been waiting for the day when I could finally see the Irish troubadour live again and attempt to sing along at the top of my lungs. He came to MTelus this past Friday night and let me tell you… it was an experience and a half.  

Kennedy grew up busking in Dublin, Ireland and only a few years ago, he self-published a few songs on Spotify before signing with a label. His online streaming success led him to working with hip hop record producer, Mike Dean on his EP, Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy (2018). Throughout 2018 and 2019, he’s been touring North America, Europe and Australia and selling out venues along the way. He has played major festivals like Lollapalooza, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Coachella, just to name a few. At the start of this year, his compilation album, Dermot Kennedy was released and only a couple weeks ago, his debut album flew to the top of the charts. He was just announced as the first Irish artist to get a UK #1 in almost 20 years, Youtube Music’s Artist On the Rise, NPR Slingshot’s Best New Artist and so much more. Now with over hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify, he’s truly getting the recognition he deserves. 

At any show, I’m always interested in hearing what songs are played in the venue before the concert starts. On Friday night, the audience bopped along to the pre-show playlist with songs from Drake, Skepta, Chance the Rapper and more. Although taking inspiration from David Gray, Glen Hansard and Ray LaMontagne, Kennedy’s love and appreciation for hip hop music are recognized in the production of his songs. The writing aspect too – poetry and lyrics go hand in hand. 

Okay finally… the lights went dim, I almost lost my hearing from the screaming of over 2000 people and Dermot Kennedy appeared on stage softy lit with blue as smoke surrounded him. He opened the show with An Evening I Will Not Forget – a song that breaks my heart every time. Moving right into Lost and one of the new songs off the album, What Have I Done, the crowd did not let up their excitement. 

After Moments Passed, he gave a thumbs up to the sold-out MTelus crowd, which would become a reoccurring action of appreciation for the rest of the night. Arguably my favourite part about a concert is when the artist takes the time to explain a few songs and share their personal stories or the process of making those songs. Before Rome, he shared that, “It was a time when things were really difficult and I wasn’t sure if they were going to improve.. and so it deserved a song.” It was crazy to hear everyone knowing every lyric to new songs that were just released 2 weeks prior. 

The rasp, the grit and passion in his voice is so profound when he’s on stage. Dermot Kennedy’s poetic storytelling with electronic instrumentation is what makes his music so unique. Not to mention, his politeness of saying “Thank you” after every single song. So wholesome. 

Some synth-y introductions sounded Bon Iver-esque which became an artistic addition to his already beautiful songs. With a single spotlight on him, he sang For Island Fires and Family which he described as a song he wrote intending to bring “any degree of comfort anywhere in your life.” 

His heartfelt demeanour moved everyone in the room. I would feel relief (on his behalf) every time he drank water in between songs because I don’t know how his voice does the thing that it does. Everyone belted along to Glory before he sang the album title, Without Fear. During this song, the front of the audience held up signs that read ‘We Really Think You’re Heaven-Sent’ playing on a lyric in that song that goes, ‘I really think you’re heaven-sent.’  He thanked the crowd for recognizing those tiny words that he feared would fade when writing songs. 

By contrasting styles of folk acoustic with hip hop, his performance consumed the room. Dermot Kennedy is the only artist that has evoked full-body goosebumps, tears and joy all at once. He sang Outnumbered, a song made for hope and brighter days, while people who didn’t know each other swayed back and forth with their arms wrapped around one another. You know when you know a song so well, beginning to end, but then you get to hear it live and they change a small key on a verse and your mind is blown? Yeah, I love when that happens. 

He introduced his band: Kieran Jones on the guitar, Jonny Coote on the piano, and Micheál Quinn on the drums. The band was so energetic, having the time of their lives, which was just as fun to watch as the main act himself. 

Perhaps the song that showcases his powerhouse of a voice the best, Power Over Me was introduced as, “A song about the early stages of falling in love and being completely free of any fear of being vulnerable and going for it head first” He speaks with real, unfiltered honesty.  

In these days of almost an over-saturation of music to consume, there is a loss of artistry over commercial viability. It is really refreshing to hear amazing musical songwriting talent. I don’t know how else to describe it. He told the crowd, “It’s a funny thing doing what you’ve always dreamt of doing.” He kept getting interrupted as he spoke, yet in the nicest way with the loudest cheers and woos and applause. 

He closed the show with After Rain – a song that he recorded with the money he made from busking, that then became one of the first songs he released on Spotify. A full-circle moment. The lights went crazy as he shredded his acoustic guitar, and encouraged everyone to sing along. 

After his final thumbs-up, the crowd boo-ed because he was leaving, but screamed and cheered so loud for an incredible show.

The Spotify algorithm may have helped Kennedy get to where he is today, but it’s only up from here. He was once busking on the streets of Ireland and now he’s selling out his first headline tour with a brand new album to his name. Through his music, he brings light into the dark areas of the world. If you didn’t know him before, you do now. 

Dermot Kennedy is back in Montreal at Place Des Arts on March 2, 2020 on the Without Fear North American Tour. 

Highlight – The intro to Glory. The intense, intimate solos. Quinn going ham on the drums. People shush-ing each other so they could hear him speaking his wisdom in between songs (Thank you). His cheeky smile when the crowd got super upset at the announcement of the last song. His voice. Do I have to pick just one? 

Lowlight – No encore. He left everyone wanting more.. 

Crowd Pleaser – Singing along to “You won’t go lonely, yeah” at the end of After Rain.

Set List 

  • An Evening I Will Not Forget 
  • Lost
  • The Corner
  • What Have I Done 
  • Moments Passed
  • Rome
  • All My Friends
  • Couldn’t Tell 
  • For Island Fires and Family
  • Glory
  • Without Fear
  • Outnumbered
  • Redemption
  • Power Over Me 
  • After Rain 

Review & photos – Ryley Remedios

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