Dexys’ live shows, with their seated audiences and closed bars – as is the case tonight in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre – are more like operatic theatre performances. The famously sartorial Kevin Rowland, Pete Williams, Mick Talbot et al are dressed as a hybrid of 1930s dock workers and prohibition-era gangsters and play out each song as if it were a performance piece. Which they obviously are. But the theatrics and dialogues which bookend each song are all carried by out by Rowland and Lucy Morgan in-character. It certainly adds another dimension to their shows but never at the expense of the music, which is outstanding.
Soulful, rich and captivating from start to finish, the music is probably the first thing you would expect to be sacrificed in favour of histrionics. But that is not the case, each little chat between Rowland, Morgan and Williams (at one point dressed as a police constable) is there to drive home the musical sentiment. And for anybody familiar with One Day I’m Going to Soar – the theme of the album is falling in and out of love – what better way to depict that than acting it out on stage? The music, the performance, the understated stage design all in perfect harmony. Not even some ridiculously early calls for ‘Geno’ or ‘Come on Eileen’ from one or two in the crowd disrupted the band’s flow save for some barely masked daggers from Rowland’s eyes.
The set, which was fairly heavy with tracks from the band’s first release in over 25 years, played its part too. ‘Incapable of Love’, ‘She’s Got a Wiggle’, ‘You’ and ‘Nowhere Is Home’ feature fairly early and receive a standing ovation less than thirty minutes into the show. Calls of “Welcome home, Kevin” clearly resonating with the man who sings “take your Irish stereotype and shove it up your ass”. He is, in essence, Irish, but like everything else Kevin Rowland does, it is pretty much on his terms and played out as he wants it. “Thank you very much for this” he says as the crowd show no signs of sitting back down, “this means a lot to us, and to me, especially here”.
‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ receives one of the biggest cheers of the evening, as does ‘Geno’ when it is eventually wheeled out, but it is unfair to suggest that there was much of an “I’m only here for the hits” element in the crowd. And clearly the band are aware of this as they are indulged in their chats and theatrics. Watching Rowland on his hands and knees screaming “I’m burning! I’m Burning, Brenna” during ‘Plan B’ should probably have been emotional. But his little shuffles and shimmies around the stage keep things purely light-hearted before the reflective ‘It’s OK, John Joe’ turns on its heels into the comically uproariously refrain of ‘Free’. As long as the Dexys bandwagon keeps rolling along, we may all pray that Kevin Rowland never changes.