Dermot Kennedy // O2 Academy, Bristol // 6.5.19

Dermot Kennedy // O2 Academy, Bristol // 6.5.19

Each time Dermot Kennedy walks on stage, he is met with a cheering applause before his voice instantly silences the room. But it is more than just the intensity of the Irishman’s vocals that captivates his listeners. Drawing inspiration from poetry to hip-hop, Kennedy matches heavy melodic beats to thoughtful lyrics. Each song narrates a theme of hope, loss, or love that is perfectly enclosed in lyrical ambiguity.

The 27-year-old has sold out his current European tour— which recently included a 5,000 packed show at the 02 Academy Brixton— as well as having similar success across the pond; he performed on Ellen, played multiple shows at Coachella, and finished a highly popular North American tour in April.

Kennedy has gained an impressive intercontinental following, even though his first album was only released earlier this year. But this restraint to succumb to the pressure of releasing a premature record has been a major advantage. Each track that has been released is single-worthy; during his live shows, there are no ‘album-fillers’ you have to sit through before you get the good stuff. 

In Bristol, Kennedy brought singer/songwriter Luca Fogale to this first stop of his European tour. Supporting Kennedy throughout North America, the Canadian musician clearly made an impression to maintain his place on this second leg of the tour. His heartfelt, melancholic songs ranged from his new single ‘Half-Saved’ to the popular ‘I Don’t Want to Lose You’, which has been streamed millions of times on Spotify. The crowd seemed to gravitate towards Fogale, and he surprisingly revealed it was his first time in the UK. Yet, going by the attention he held from the growing audience, I am sure it won’t be his last.

Kennedy and his band jumped on stage and performed a variety of songs including ‘Couldn’t Tell’ from his recent mixtape produced by Mike Dean (known for working with artists like Kanye West), to older tracks that seemingly never grow old, such as ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Dancing Under Red Skies’. It was great to hear Kennedy explain to the crowd some of the meanings behind his songs, which are usually shrouded by metaphorical and ambiguous lyrics. The audience were also treated to a catchy new song that hasn’t yet been released: ‘Corner’.

However, there were a few things that weren’t perfect. On occasion, the crowd let down some aspects of the performance. ‘Shelter’, for example, is a beautiful song steeped in imagery about protecting a struggling loved one— a track Kennedy performed alone with just his guitar. When everything is silent this can be a truly moving performance, yet the ethereal moment was slightly spoiled by talking and laughing from the back of the venue. However, despite the rowdy audience members at the back, the venue running out of Guinness, and the loud drumming at the beginning of the song ‘Glory’ slightly drowning out Kennedy’s voice, the set was as special as I knew it could be.

This Irish lad, who busked the streets of Dublin and still uses the same guitar he played at a school talent show aged 11, is definitely one to keep an eye on. Kennedy’s voice, his songwriting ability, and incredible work ethic, has begun to skyrocket him towards the success he deserves. Watch this space, Dermot Kennedy is coming.

Max Haydon