Sunday, May 8, 2011

Concert Review: Bill Callahan – The Academy, Dublin, 5th May 2011

It transpired that this was the first night of Bill Callahan’s tour, conjuring up images of his band receiving a letter in the post from Callahan reading: “Touring Europe. See you at the airport. Bill.”

Sophia Knapp was the support, accompanying her guitar playing with programmed keyboards. Unfortunately it was mostly forgettable stuff, with shades of 80s power balladress (new word!) Pat Benatar here and there. There was an improvement on the aptly titled Nothing To Lose where she ditched the keyboards.

By now the venue was full to bursting, with stifling heat. Bill Callahan cut a stoic, messianic figure on stage, clad in a white suit and bathed in white light as he strummed Spanish guitar with occasional harmonica. Riding for the Feeling was an early highlight. It’s a downright lovely song but it was enhanced here by some wonderful electric guitar from Matt Kinsey.

The band, completed by tie-wearing drummer Neal Morgan sounded comfortingly old-fashioned, and rendered songs like Our Anniversary, Free’s and Jim Cain in subtle, stripped-down arrangements, Kinsey’s electric guitar substituting for strings. Universal Applicant gave Callahan a chance to do his flare impersonation while the song benefited from some lovely guitar flourishes on the coda creating a beautifully laid-back atmosphere, not spoilt by the Bez-from-Happy-Mondays impersonator beside us.

The music created by this threesome was really quite something, with Callahan also showcasing a fine singing voice. Some tracks such as Eid Ma Clack Shaw and My Friend were radically reimagined from their recorded versions and worked well. Bill Callahan found time to dig up Bathysphere from his back catalogue, which concluded his set.

If the feverish retail activity at his concession stand was anything to go by, he sent an adoring crowd home deliriously happy. Indeed I really didn't want it to end!