REVIEW // Dermot Kennedy unveils Without Fear at SWX

Dermot Kennedy stopped into SWX for an astonishing sold-out show

For those unaware of Dermot Kennedy’s soulful Irish rasp, he uses it explore a variety of uplifting and troubling themes from discovering love to the misery of alcoholism. The singer-songwriter comes from humble beginnings, regularly travelling from Rathcoole, his hometown, to busk on the Dublin’s Grafton Street and test his acoustic wisdom on every passerby in ear shot.  He has progressed from the streets to selling out shows, including Dublin Olympia.

Kennedy has already been compared to the likes of David Gray, Rag N’ Bone Man and Ed Sheeran – the latter most fitting, as like Sheeran, Kennedy uses a combination of electronic beats and hip hop, along with his acoustic guitar to create his troubadour vibes.

Kennedy has already been compared to the likes of David Gray, Rag N’ Bone Man and Ed Sheeran

In celebration of the release of his debut album Without Fear, Dermot Kennedy made way for Bristol’s SWX. With no support act for the sell-out event, I, and the other fellow-fans, filled the venue with the sound of chatter and anticipation for Kennedy. As the clock struck 8 O’clock, Kennedy and the band took to the stage and were greeted by a wave of screams and ‘I fancy you’ exclamations before the set had even began. 

The night began with Rome – Kennedy and his acoustic guitar taking the spotlight, with the band providing somber overtones in the background. It was clear that Kennedy wanted to build a connection with the audience; they desired the soulful connection too, showcased by their unified rendition to each song. 

It was clear that Kennedy wanted to build a connection with the audience

Kennedy continued to work off of the audience and transferred the energy into his big-lunged anthems Power of Me and Out Numbered. These two songs being particularly special, as Kennedy explained, because though he wrote them about specific past experiences, he since realised they can be applied to any situation for varying reasons. He followed this with a statement of admiration for each fan who is able to build a personal connection with his music. The choruses created momentary senses of escapism for the audience from everything but the music.

Without any exceptions, Kennedy’s set unveiled the true depths that emotion can both dive into and rise from. An acoustic version of For Island Fires And Family embodied this as he focused on the feeling of being lost or off the track and finding a way back to the places and people that ground you in reality and happiness. This rendition created a particular sense of belonging in the venue, as we were all together in the moment, regardless of anything else, to appreciate the talent of Dermot Kennedy.  

 adding prevailing outros and revised intros at the appropriate times to control the energy of the audience and tempo of the songs 

The band complemented Kennedy perfectly, adding prevailing outros and revised intros at the appropriate times to control the energy of the audience and tempo of the songs.  Keiran Jones (bassist) and Micheál Quinn (drummer) routinely guided each other through section changes as they reached thumping choruses and glorious crescendos.  

Kennedy regularly altered the vibe with Couldn’t Tell bringing a hard-rock feel and transforming An Evening I Will Not Forget from an acoustic rendition to a full-band sound – the result was tremendous. 

transforming An Evening I Will Not Forget from an acoustic rendition to a full-band sound – the result was tremendous

Kennedy began to draw things to close by fully introducing his band and requesting no encore, as he was about to play his final song. He finalised his set with breakthrough track After Rain, inviting the audience to sing in his place at the chorus. 

The audience accepted, reciting the song’s repeating refrain ‘you won’t go lonely here’ back and continued to gently sway as Kennedy and his band exited the stage to a series of cheers, claps and overwhelming admiration.  

Words by Will Humphrey

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