A mere week after losing out on the Choice Music Prize to Jape for the second time, Lisa Hannigan returns to Vicar Street for yet another sold-out show – proving yet again that what she lacks in Album of the Year awards on the mantelpiece, she more than makes up for in live prestige. There aren’t many artists who would be brave enough to walk onstage armed with only an acoustic guitar to face a giddy capacity Vicar Street crowd who are staring down the barrel of a bank-holiday weekend… But then again, there aren’t many artists as instantly captivating as Lisa Hannigan. The refrains of mournful lament ‘Little Bird’ are played out to dead silence – the audience completely wowed by song #1, not a bad start to the evening’s proceedings.
Hannigan’s band must be introduced, for they play almost as integral a part to the magic that follows as the leading lady herself. Somewhat of a super-group of accomplished musicians – John Smith on guitar, Gavin Glass on piano, Ross Turner on drums, Shane Fitzsimons on bass both double and electric, and Donagh Molloy on trumpet and everything else in between – there’s such an air of class about them as a unit, and that’s before pointing out that they’re all dapperly clad in suits. The charm of debut album Sea Sew is still alive and well with ‘Venn Diagram’, ‘Lille’, and in particular the melodic beauty of ‘Ocean and a Rock’. The intensity of Passenger duo ‘A Sail’ and ‘Paper House’ played back-to-back is magnificent – Hannigan’s banjo skills shining bright on the former, and the gradual build towards the climax of the latter executed to perfection by all. John Smith takes over Ray Lamontagne’s vocal duties on ‘O Sleep’ to great effect, the velvety gruffness of his voice in sweet harmony with Hannigan’s soaring falsetto. A surprise standout comes in the form of Sea Sew album track ‘Teeth’, a powerfully raw performance which sees her exploring every nook of her vocal range. Sing-along favourite ‘I Don’t Know’ and the hoedown throw-down of ‘Knots’ finish the show on a high, Hannigan and band departing stage-left to deafening applause. Having closed out the main with her two biggest songs to date, what could she possibly have left in reserve for the encore?
As it transpired, plenty. Hannigan returns accompanied by John Smith and his acoustic guitar for a duet of the classic ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’, complete with comedic mouth-trumpet solos. Passenger bonus-track ‘Oh Undone’ – a “new old song” – finds its rightful place in the spotlight, before a compelling harmonium-driven interpretation of Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’. Something old, something new, something borrowed – and finally ‘What’ll I Do’. A brilliant encore set to round off a mesmerising evening of live music from Lisa Hannigan and band, and fully deserving of the standing ovation that bids them adieu.
Photos: James Goulden