6/1 shot Adrian Crowley stole the Choice Music Award headlines on an emotional night at Vicar Street, securing the vote of assembled media experts in the final two minutes of deliberations. Crowley’s fifth album Season Of Sparks won the mellow Galway star a pot of 10,000 Euro and the title -Irish album of the year 2009′, an accolade he accepted in a state of genuine shock at the end of a night crammed full of Ireland’s top talent.
CODES opened proceedings, demonstrating once again the extent to which their energetic live show surpasses the choirboy-style vocals of debut album Trees Dream in Algebra. Next up was Julie Feeney, a truly bizarre live performer who spent the duration of her second track flitting amongst the audience and whispering -a story’, in between laughing like a hyena. While Julie has a great voice, this particular performance is so odd it turns most of the audience off her, being pointedly arty and off-the-wall but utterly lacking substance. Her glittering dress is far more memorable.
Dark Room Notes are also a touch slack, falling short of their best in their two-track blast, and seem to lack a distinctive persona on stage, especially when given the sizable Vicar Street platform to fill. It takes the superb Duckworth Lewis Method to really get the night going. Writing an appealing album entirely about cricket is an achievement in itself, but succeeding in selling that album in Ireland is a still bigger claim to fame. Hannon and Walsh are all about the on-stage banter, and produce a mini-set that could have flown in direct from the 60s, and is peppered with a level of audience interaction that puts them a league above the other performers up to this point.
Valerie Francis takes up the challenge, and produces a delicate couple of tracks that suggest she has plenty more to offer, yet fail to truly inspire. The Swell Season’s set scores one hit and one miss: the Marketa Irglova driven opener is a drab and uninspiring affair, while Hansard-focused follow up -Paper Cup’ is far more inspiring, and features Leonard Cohen’s guitarist (who remains oddly unaccredited by name, and has apparently stumbled his way to the awards via a multi-city Spanish drinking session).
Crowley is the second last performer, and produces a note perfect yet strangely disconnected performance, one that offers ample demonstration of why he later picked up the award, yet remains a relatively poor advert for Crowley as a live prospect. All of which leaves the incredible And So I Watch You From Afar to rough things up a bit, and demonstrate why State’s contingent unanimously tipped them as our winner of choice. The Belfast instrumental punk stars were like a shot of energy direct to the vein, and no doubt talked a large part of the assembled crowd into heading for their -secret’ gig down the road right after the awards. Stage jumping, thrashy guitars, angst and the kind of well rehearsed chord transitions that can only come from endless hours of lively rehearsal are the features of what is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most compelling live acts.
In truth, as good as the night was, Choice suffered from the same pitfalls that face any show of this sort. The line up – though high class – was highly eclectic, making for disconnected and slightly uninspiring viewing. Two songs per act simply isn’t enough for anyone (the effervescent And So I Watch You From Afar aside) to really get into the swing of things. The problem, of course, is that there’s no obvious better way to do things. Valerie Francis wittily summed up the scenario after her first 3-minute ditty, announcing to the crowd -this is my last song’. As for the audience, we spent as much time looking at screens as actually watching live music, and everyone’s turned up for a different act or two, making for a mixed and sporadic vibe.
The pitfalls, though, might well be insurmountable, and have to be taken as part of the package. As unfulfilling as it can be, we’d rather have a -taster’ song or two from each artist and enjoy an eclectic and variable evening than miss out altogether, and you’ll rarely find a more impressive array of Irish talent all in one place than here at Choice. And So I Watch You From Afar, Duckworth Lewis Method and The Swell Season provided the entertaining bursts, and an emotional Adrian Crowley sent us all home – or down the road to the Mercantile – with smiles on our faces.
Photos: Julie Bienvenu