DAVID KEENAN @ Whelan’s

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On an eventful Saturday night in November 2013 our travels took us to Retro Revival Club at Sweeney’s. On the night four acts were playing – The Statics, The Whereabouts and Late City Edition. The other making up the night’s quartet was Dundalk artist David Keenan. Two things stood out for us that night we watched him on stage – he had talent and potential.

Over the years we have seen him play in his hometown of Dundalk to The Ruby Sessions among others. Seeing him perform tonight was to be witness to a poet, songwriter, showman and tremendous wordsmith all rolled into one on stage at Whelan’s. All of these qualities were on show from start to finish with his set. Welcomed by an anecdote that a doctor had told him not to speak on account of a recent bout of laryngitis he quipped ‘but he never said nothin’ about singing’ before beginning the night with ‘Cobwebs’. This is a song suitably gifted an enthralling touch as he effectively guides everything in. The lyrical break down beckons the fine worth of it all as the words flow. Artists find inspiration from many places, and the homely touch to the back story of ‘The Good Old Days’ gives you an insight into the man behind the artist. A broadened keepsake stirring adds to what is retained furthermore in the richness of the metaphors. Yet how he situates himself in the performance is what keeps it real. Along with the spry draw in the tempo he brings it to life but keeps it all in tandem as his voice pursues the conviction of his delivery.

Conditionally re-imagining the story of Adam and Eve in a modern setting gives ‘Hotel Eden’ a contemporary setting. This shows how talented he is and the richness cuts through on it. With true aplomb his voice leans into the delivery adding to the poetry in motion and locks in the romance to make you think further about the song. His subconscious helped him find the inspiration for ‘James Dean’, during which the actor appeared to him in a dream and he got a song out of it. How he works this underlines why you have to admire the man when he gets lost in his work. Another wonderful quality about his songs is the way he processes observations about his hometown and takes you there. This is the same with ‘The Friary’ and the inviting traits here wonderfully show. He fronts it from behind a guitar adding a Van Morrison quality which is concentrated in how it sounds and is structured.

He brings it all down on ‘Love In A Snug’, which is inspired by his first-hand account of viewing life and its characters in a late bar and the impression those strangers can leave on you. The sombre mood begins to come to life in the descript observations. It is that knack for grafting great tunes from such situations that gives his music depth. This quality works on ‘Tír Na Nóg’. Telling of young love and underage drinking covets, and you sense his appreciation for his nostalgic trip as you are swept you up in the song. His positive viewpoint and the colourful flight of guitar brings are truly befitting.

To close out his set he was joined by Harry Hoban and The Brothers Kane. This was the first time we had seen him play with the backing of a full band. Knockanstockan has long inspired many an artist on the Irish grassroots scene and it is responsible for giving life to ‘Eastern Lights’. The lighter rhythm deftly carries an ornate sense through in the arrangement. Yet the soft bellow of piano mirrors more tender aspects. Collectively this is an assured effort when you see how much gravitas the backing of a full band gives to it all. By dedicating ‘Josie Wells’ to his mother he enamoured himself to an appreciative audience. Here a hardened Americana trait is brandished but it matures by exclusively encompassing the very definition of what a good song should be. What you are also picking up on from listening is how his new material is all about the hometown boy in the new world and the impetus captured. The great story behind ‘Matchbox’ helps bring it home. The influence of his grandfather is well known on his music but knowingly he adds a poignant touch by referring to him before playing. The thorough qualities capably turn their respective corners as he wiles away on the guitar. The direction shifts on ‘The Fear’. It is a catchy number with a joie-de-vivre conjured from the very start. The attention to detail on everything is added and he remains in control of it throughout. This is another track that makes him an artist worth your time tracking down.

Ever the showman he didn’t want it to end on that song and joined the crowd for ‘Beggar To Beggar’ and is one of his songs that is a bit of a favourite for us here in the U&I office. The intimacy of his showing here keeping things fashionably chic, the well versed cut of the lyrics, the movement in the tempo, the lyrics….it is a tune with so much to admire. He pitched it with such quality that it left you walking away safe in the knowledge it has found its way in to the right hands.

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