Friday 27 October 2023

John Murry /Whelan's - July 19th, 2023

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.

Steve Earle / Vicar Street

Desmond Traynor                                        Steve Earle / Vicar Street, June 29th, 2023

After an engaging supporting set from Edinburgh’s Roseanne Reid, the Hardcore Troubadour strolls out on to the Vicar Street stage for the concluding show of the European leg of his Alone Again Tour, kicking things off with a cover of The Pogues’ ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’, because ‘Shane McGowan is one of the best songwriters around.’ From then on it’s mostly a judicious selection of crowd favourites from his back catalogue, such as ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’, 

‘My Old Friend The Blues’, ‘Guitar Town’ and ‘I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.’ The evening reaches an emotional crescendo with covers of Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’, and his own deceased son Justin’s ‘Harlem River Blues’. Big hitters ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Copperhead Road’ are saved until the end. It is hard to do the solo acoustic thing, and what you realise watch Earle is that you are in the hands of a master, who can read the room.

    The otherwise excellent set concludes on a somewhat jarring note, as during the encore Earle takes a rather gratuitous pop at Roger Waters for his promotion of the BDS campaign against apartheid Israel, while introducing his own plea for peace in the region, 2003’s ‘Jerusalem’. Earle visited Israel in 2013 to take part in David Broza’s ‘East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem’ bridge-building project. While one should respect the fact that Earle was acting in good faith, it is not unreasonable to ask, ‘Would you have played Sun City in apartheid South Africa, Steve, because you ‘don’t believe in hopeless cases or lost causes’?’ If not, why go against the wishes of the majority of the Palestinian people now? 

    Otherwise, the veteran sails on, a consummate professional who, at this stage of the game, knows exactly what he’s doing, and how to do it. 

Bad photos: