Sunday night at the DC Club and Michael McDermott is making a final stop on his European tour. His affiliation with and affection for Ireland are an integral part of his upbringing and he tells some terrific tales of growing up in an Irish-American household with some of that good old catholic guilt and religion circling the extended family members.
Not that it’s a case of running down old tradition and thrashing the past; this gifted artist takes these experiences and hones them into finely crafted songs that play out like short-stories in front of your eyes. He is a very lyrical writer and the words conjure up neighbourhoods and characters that we can all recognise and feel part of, with a sense that we have somehow known them already.
Michael McDermott has been an accomplished song-writer since his first recording back in the early 1990’s and has gone on to release close to 20 albums, either as a solo performer or with his band, The Westies. It is true to say that he has experienced both excess and hard times in the life he has lived.
He is a passionate performer, giving a great deal of energy and honesty to his vignettes on life and love. His stories from the stage tell of drug addiction and robbery, leading to some time spent in prison. This living life on the edge has shaped him and he speaks from a place of self-awareness and maturity about the journey taken.
The set tonight draws from all parts of his career, from A Wall I Must Climb, (released as a single in 1991) all the way through to Willie Rain, a song written for his daughter who was born in 2010. Indeed, these are personal songs and Shadow In The Window is about his father and the relationship they had over many years, defined by a degree of indifference. Ending with the lines "Now there’s a shadow in the window that’s missing; I’m having a hard time letting go – I love you …" Both poignant and powerful to witness live on keyboards.
He played a number of songs from the last album Willow Springs (2016) and Butterfly is a look back to his years as a junkie and the passing of an old friend. Solo acoustic versions of These Last Few Days and Getaway Car are mixed with earlier songs like Trains, A Deal With the Devil, The Great American Novel and No.49 while a new song, I Know A Thing Or Two About Being Knocked Down, is a quick-fire semi-rap that shows all the lyricism and verbal dexterity that his razor-like intelligence can conjure.
Many of the songs contain a naked honesty and if he sometimes uses the stage as a cathartic means to expel his demons, playing acoustic guitar, harmonica and keyboards like this; well, it’s certainly a trip worth taking. As Michael himself sings in the song I Know a Place;
"Yeah sometimes, you feed the darkness, Yeah sometimes, you heed the darkness,Yeah sometimes, you need the darkness in order to ever see the light."
At all points there is a deep humanity and humility at play and the attentive crowd pick up on every part of this compelling performance.
A word also for the opening act, Beki Hemingway who was a very welcome surprise. Living in Gorey, Co. Wexford by way of Denver, she appeared with her husband, Randy Kirkman on guitar and delivered a set of seven songs that highlighted her superb voice and vocal tone. A very engaging performer and someone to watch over the coming months as she tries to rebuild a career that she had stepped away from for a period of 10 years. She has a new release out now titled Whins and Weather and a number of the songs tonight are taken from it – watch this space …
Review by Paul McGee Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea