Desmond Traynor John Murry / Whelan’s, July 16th, 2023
It’s a decade since the release of John Murry’s breakthrough album, The Graceless Age, and the 10th anniversary is being celebrated with three band dates in Ireland – Galway, Limerick, and now Dublin (with a solo stop-off in Galway again, for the Film Fleadh – where Sarah Share’s film The Ballad of John Murry has just bagged the Best Documentary Award).
With backing from three young, crack musicians, unsurprisingly the set features every song from that classic album, although not in the original running order. Murry can be an intimidating stage presence, and his between song patter isn’t always coherent, but he achieves many moments of intensity over the course of the evening. Not least among them is the record’s 10-minute+ centrepiece, ‘Little Coloured Balloons’. Like any artist required to play the same song every night, especially one as harrowingly autobiographical as this, Murry is not unaware of the freak show element of a piece in which he opens up and bleeds. Rather, he is conscious of the multiple ironies involved in re-enacting his own near-death experience – due to a drug overdose – and resuscitation, giving a performative display of his own internalised trauma time after time. Also, he has to keep it interesting for himself. To this end, he fairly deconstructs the song with an ongoing commentary while singing it (at one point he throws in a reference to its ‘emotional pornography’), without diminishing any of its inherent weight. Indeed, he brings it home with all its requisite heartrending power intact. There is even an improvisatory lyric change from ‘I took an ambulance ride/They said I nearly died’ to ‘I wish I’d died.’
The encore sees an airing of ‘I Refuse To Believe You Could Love Me’, from most recent album The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes, plus a raucous rendition of Hank Williams’ ‘I Saw The Light’.
As The Life Partner remarked to me afterwards, it’s like watching a beautiful car crash. Playing to an audience of devotees in Whelan’s on a Sunday night, it is interesting to speculate how many are there for the beauty, and how many for the car crash. But that is a risk any edgily spontaneous performer always takes. Besides, maybe the car crash is part of the beauty. Anyway you look at it, what a show – with entertaining support from Longford-based band Cronin.