Tonight’s set is performed in the lush and prestigious Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, established in Dublin in the very early 20th century; its founders included WB Yeats who could turn a memorable verse or two. It’s a theatre “full of ghosts and history,” says O’ Rourke, but is tonight bereft of a live audience. The set showcases his new album ‘Arrivals’, with all but one song drawn from it.
O’Rourke is clad in a tan/beige linen suit which sits neatly amidst the various hues of brown that form the Abbey’s auditorium, or so it appears in the subdued stage lighting. Through very adroit video technology he is joined at various points in the nine song set by the likes of cellist Izzy Dunn from Surrey’s Black Barn studio, and a certain Paul Weller from London, contributing both guitar and piano. Weller produced the latest album, recorded in a sprightly six days at the aforementioned studio. Sharing the Abbey stage are the all-female Leinster string quartet, all keeping the mandatory two metres apart. Amongst recent PR, O’Rourke has recently given a very thorough interview to AUK regarding the album which potentially steals some reviewing thunder.
The overall dominant theme seems to be using rural or small industrial Irish town settings to narrate precise domestic and personal stories, peppered with more sweeping and wider statements. So we have ‘The Harbour’, telling us about the quirky characters making a living in a seaside town which could be any time in the last 150 years but for “new craze electric cigarettes” which give it a more current stamp. Whereas ‘Have You Not Heard The War Is Over’ is a more anthemic song, with a wry comment on the many wars fought in the name of Jesus Christ though it “turns out that no-one recorded him talking.” ‘Convict Ways’ marks 150 years from when the last Irish convict ship headed to Freemantle on the coast of West Australia, its cargo effectively, “slaves without the name of slaves.” Violin support is provided from “up the road” by his friend John Sheahan, the last surviving member of The Dubliners. Weller provides rollicking guitar on ‘Andy Sells Coke’, a self-explanatory title (Shack’s ‘Streets of Kerry’ comes to mind in broadly similar territory).
O’Rourke is keen to convey his joy at playing live with a squad of other musicians after such a long hiatus, and closes with ‘This Thing That We Share’, introducing it as “an ode to the fragility of everything.” Its guitar, drums and piano (tinkled by Weller) are all stripped back and played with a light touch, the pace restrained in Leonard Cohen style.
The final screen credits remind us that, perhaps paradoxically in the context of an empty concert theatre, there is an extensive troupe of people in various places that have to work effectively and seamlessly to deliver a multi-locational virtual set of this nature.