Tonight has the air of a homecoming. There are few musical groups around who could lay claim to a venue as grandiose as the National Concert Hall as their spiritual home but this has always been a special place for the Gloaming. It was here that they performed their first ever gig almost five years ago and it seems fitting that it should play host to this run of five sold out shows that serve as a fine marker of just how far the band have come in that time.
The tour comes in support of their recent sophomore album The Gloaming 2 and it is clear from the beginning that the group are eager to explore the record in a live setting. Though released less than a week ago, the crowd seems to have taken the newer songs to heart already. ‘Casadh an tSúgáin’ allows singer Iarla Ó Lionáird to show his vocal range while ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’ is representative of the new material with Thomas Bartlett’s piano taking a more prominent role. ‘Fáinleog (Wanderer)’, meanwhile, follows a template the band has more-or-less perfected at this stage: ethereal instrumentation which builds to a joyous crescendo.
In the run-up to the release of the new album the term “supergroup” has been thrown around when discussing the group’s considerable respective individual talents. While such descriptions might traditionally have been synonymous with rockstar posturing and overblown egos, this is an occasion where it might truly be apt. Each member has mastered their instrument technically and each is given ample room to showcase their talent. ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ is all about Martin Hayes’ fiddle, building from a whisper to a stirring finale while Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is also given his own time to shine, teasing out a stripped-down and delicate ‘Chasing the Squirrel’. Guitarist Dennis Cahill, meanwhile, is the anchor that keep things grounded as the music rises and falls, making sure there is a steady base to return to, no matter how the arrangements might soar.
As impressive as the group is individually, it’s when they combine that they reach a new plain. The five-piece has always favoured a live approach when recording and watching them one feels that it is here that they feel most at home. When they lock into the rhythm it can feel almost transcendental.
Between songs the mood is light and jovial. Each band member takes their turn addressing the packed house and their musings are endearingly off-the-cuff. Ó Lionáird inhibits the role of seanchaí well, filling the crowd in on some of the stories behind the traditional numbers in their set and poking fun at the band’s imaginative song-naming process ahead of ‘Song 44’. The only real complaint would be the absence of some standouts from their debut, but it is a small grievance and the newer material is more than fit to hold its own in the set list.
One of the most conspicuous things about tonight’s performance is the mixture of young and old faces in attendance. It’s evident that they’re tapping into cross-generational appeal; straddling the contemporary and traditional at once. This rolling wave has been swelling for some time now and still shows no signs of breaking.
The Gloaming were photographed for State.ie by Leah Carroll