Vicar Street on the eve of St Patrick’s Day was in many ways an unorthodox setting for a solo show from one of the most critically acclaimed, if flawed, songwriters of recent times. A shelter from the madness on surrounding streets, a simple set up alternating between electric guitar and piano is the scene as a healthy crowd assembled in an all-seated room. Chan Marshall has, for a variety of reasons, been a somewhat inconsistent live performer down through the years, but an enchanting though low key turn at last summer’s Castlepalooza festival reassures and whets the appetite for what is to come.
From the second she takes the stage, understated and unassuming, Power is a magnetic presence, taking first to guitar to shuffle through a captivating mini-set before shifting to the piano for a longer stretch that on occasion loses impetus but is never less than captivating. ‘Fool’ is an early stand out, chords ring out and leave space for the vocal to take centre stage, making the most of a dual mic set up, dominated by reverb but never less than crystal clear and complementary to her impeccable delivery. The dark, two chord chug of ‘Metal Heart’ is another early highlight, allowing a solid base from which again the vocal can take flight.
Marshall’s self-consciousness manifests itself in an on-going effort to clear her throat, audible for much of the set. Any initial reticence to engage is soon dispelled. Whereas back in August, Marshall spent much of the evening sheltering behind a stellar backing band, tonight becomes as much of a back-and-forth and ongoing interaction between Power and the audience as it is a lone performance.
She keeps those in attendance posted as to her progress with the frog in her throat (‘It’s coming up!’) but its impact is never perceptible in her pitch perfect delivery. She grows into the performance, engaging ever more as the evening progresses, an on-going dialogue becomes established past the half-way point of the set, asking after Shane McGowan’s well-being (and efficiently dealing with an errant voice from the back of the room) and inspiring an impromptu chorus from the crowd of ‘The Auld Triangle’, which in turn awakens a Brendan Behan enthusiast who requires little prompting to roar his name at the drop of a hat.
Perpetually self-deprecating, undermining a difficulty with finding a concluding note on certain piano based songs with a wry ‘I’ve been taking jazz lessons….as a joke’, there’s a strong bond developed between audience and performer through this patter. There’s a sweet rendition of ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’ and ‘3,6,9’ is rolled out with a strut and swagger different to that on the recorded version but no less gripping for it.
Concluding with an acapella rendition of ‘Wanderer’, Marshall haltingly leaves the stage, evidently relishing the predominantly positive and respectful atmosphere in the room. A final parting thought; ‘Thank you so much for accepting me for who I am’ and she’s gone. It was a rambling, compelling and engaging set, entirely at odds with the manic nature of the weekend in Dublin, and all the better for it.