The ghost that powers the sorrow and the beauty in Imelda May's incredible voice
There was a ghost hanging over the engrossing Imelda May gig at the Waterfront Hall last night. It was a powerful presence that, when you thought it had disappeared, it showed up again.
The ethereal feel to the gig started before Imelda and her five-piece band came on stage, with an opening track of moody, rhythmical pipes and electronica before the Liberties lass appeared to perform the intense ballad Call Me followed by the bluesy When It’s My Time, both from her wonderful new album Life, Love, Flesh, Blood.
It the title is visceral, then so is the music. Imelda really pours her heart and soul into the songs, channeling the trauma of having broken up with her husband, Darrel Higham, in July 2015 but the ghost of the relationship could have centre-stage last night.
Sorrow and beauty are two sides of the same coin and out of the depths came a song like Black Tears which Imelda started to explain but then said “oh, let’s just go straight into the song."
It tells of her seeing her seeing her own reflection in a mirror with her mascara falling like black tears down her cheek after her “long goodbye” to Darrel. A gorgeous song, sung to perfection, written by a woman on top of her game, it sent shivers down the audience's collective spine.
It seemed like we were in for a night of love-gone-wrong until things took an unusual turn as Imelda asked for the auditorium houselights to go up and asked everyone to say hello to a stranger beside them.
We were all there, all of us of different faiths, of different genders and political persuasions, to enjoy music, said Imelda, speaking from the stage. She want on to tell us about a friend, Thomas Ayad, who was killed in the attack on the Bataclan in Paris in 2015. She then launched into Love and Fear which features the truism “"Good people do bad things, bad people do good"
But everything in the gig wasn’t so cathartic. How can you not want to dance and sway to Big, Bad Handsome Man, or Mayhem or Johnny’s Got a Boom Boom?
But then again, in another surprising turn, Imelda, sat herself at the edge of the stage with one of her guitarists and gave us three songs, including a gorgeous version of Dublin's national anthem, Molly Malone!
As the ghost wheeled her barrow, the spectral Darrel made his final appearance in a spoken word ode to strong women - “you are terrifying, and strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love” - before Imelda let fly with an encore that included Teenage Kicks and Santa Clause is Coming to Town and every inch of dancing space taken up.
Now that’s what I call an emotional roller-coaster of a gig.