A return to The Olympia stage in front of a capacity audience for the quiet man from Cork, fresh from toppling the almighty Madonna from atop the charts with the release of his third album Red To Blue last month. Those familiar with Mick Flannery in a live setting know it’s no frills affair – for the duration of his career thus far the part-time stonemason turned musician has poured his soul into crafting a collection of songs which are undeniably are rooted in misery but triumph through the adversity. So when he appears onstage shortly after 9pm to open with the downtrodden duo of ‘Only Gettin’ On’ and ‘Ships in the Night’, there’s a respectful silence which allows for every softly sung gravelly tone to be heard as the combination of acoustic guitar, strings, and rumbling percussion are played out to perfection.
The ensemble band performing alongside Flannery tonight are fantastic – a trio of brass musicians, a string quartet, percussion, lead guitar, and bass compliment as he himself takes the lead alternating between guitar and piano. Yvonne Daly is joined intermittently by Flannery’s mother Elaine to provide haunting backing vocals. The setup varies throughout the set depending on the song in question – for example the brilliant ‘Wish You Well’ from 2008’s White Lies gets the blues treatment, as strings and brass make way for an amped-up extended rendition complete with sprawling instrumental outro. Likewise for ‘What Do You See’, and ‘Tomorrow’s Paper’ – which even manages to get a brave trio on the balcony up off their seats for a dance. The trio of ‘Gone Forever’, ‘Red to Blue’, and ‘No Way To Live’ from the latest album sound even better played out live – the latter being the closest thing to an anthem we’ll ever hear from Mick Flannery. However it’s the moments for which the ensemble are in full attendance that impress the most – the collective performance of ‘Heartless Man’ early on in the set is simply stunning.
“So I went over to America for a while to depress a few people over there…” is the preamble for piano ballad ‘Boston’, as Flannery recounts the tale behind the closing track of Red to Blue. “How’s my stage presence?” he muses afterwards. “I’ve been going to classes…” It seems that his chronic shyness onstage is finally beginning to fade into the background – tonight, he appears to be engaging with his adoring audience more than ever, and has even learned to crack a joke or two at his own expense. “That had a nice summertime feel to it, eh?” he quips after an acoustic rendition of the misery-laden lament ‘Keepin’ Score’.
The gradual build of ‘Up On That Hill’ as executed by the full company of musicians to close out the main set is exquisite – the rapturous applause which follows coaxes Flannery back onstage in mere seconds. White Lies duo ‘California’ and ‘Safety Rope’ have been reserved for the encore, and what a treat – the middle eight of the latter still proving as powerful as ever. Such is the reception for it that it would’ve been rude for him not to do a second encore – it’s just him, his guitar and his mammy for ‘Arise Now’ to send the Flannery Faithful off into the night. He may continually be a man of few words – but Mick Flannery lets his music do the talking, and truth be told as he has shown tonight it speaks louder than anything he could ever say.