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Music: Kennedy in Los Angeles
Dublin’s Dermot Kennedy performs in Los Angeles, California
Immersion in lush, dark, Irish melody is the way I’ll describe the concert by this young Dublin, Ireland singer and songwriter. His name, Dermot Kennedy, was unknown to me until a friend, who subscribes to Autonomia and knows about my leaking roof, empathized during one of LA’s torrents of rain. He sent a link to a song, “Better Days.” That’s when I started listening. I enjoyed the tunes more with each listening. This friend took me to Kennedy’s show last night in Los Angeles.
The 90-minute performance was stunning. Dermot Kennedy’s showmanship is intense, slightly profane and largely unadorned, except for a digital video wall behind the band and two background vocalists. The concert was immersive—not bombastic. The stage was black. Lights came on with a gradual, natural ease. Drummer, guitarist and keyboardist among others appeared with Kennedy standing at center stage in a spotlight. He sang—mostly with eyes closed—occasionally telling the audience how much he appreciates Los Angeles. He spoke and sang about love, cherishing every moment and the importance of living in the present. Young, head-shaved Kennedy pours himself into every turn of his vocally driven songs, sweating and, sometimes, playing guitar with ferocious, focused perfection. He talked about drinking beer with bandmates. When he sings, it’s as though his entire body’s functioning to serve the vocal cords. He sang one of his signature (and one of my new favorite) songs from one of a few albums—“One Life,” a dark, hip-hop/folk hybrid—and chose not to sing others, such as his cover of Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good,” which is excellent. Leaving aside issues of the audience, opening acts—Kevin Garrett made a fine first impression—venue and other factors, Dermot Kennedy is emotionally powerful. He brought me to tears. I laughed. I smiled. I listened, thought, swayed and danced—well, I chair and concert danced—and was moved.
I suppose what differentiates DK among other peers, such as Taylor Swift, James Blunt and Ed Sheeran, is naturalness in each performance; his Irish accented phrasing stresses the melody. His range is alright, though I’m not a musician or qualified to judge. Everything he does—in songs he writes, such as “Outnumbered,” one of my favorites—is slow, deliberate and expressive. Declining to perform any encores, the show’s climax came with “Something to Someone” and “Kiss Me.” He played his hits. Kennedy’s aura’s in the way he pauses, accentuates and plays up what he writes about struggle and strain. Music and lyrics are not cheerful. They’re not maudlin. DK’s tunes are introspective, serious and a little larger than most songs in this pared-down love song genre. There’s an air of romanticism in every song. Dermot Kennedy’s on a world tour—he’s scheduled to appear in Winnipeg, London, Munich, at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, in Texas and at Madison Square Garden on America’s Flag Day—through autumn. If you like his songs, which I find are at once youthful and wise, his show invigorates and enthralls. It touches me still.
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