Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rachel Sermanni at Whelan's Upstairs, March 9

Several months ago, Jenny and I went to see Elvis Costello at Sligo Live. If you read the post about our trip to Sligo, you may remember that we were absolutely stunned by the musical talent of Costello's opening act, a young Scottish woman named Rachel Sermanni.

When we caught word that Sermanni was going to put on a show here in Dublin, of course we jumped all over the chance to buy tickets. We'd purchased her first EP at the Sligo concert, and while it's lovely, it's far from representative of this girl's range. She's a true live performer, and in case she never makes it over the pond (though we really think she could be huge), we wanted to take the chance to see her sing one more time.

The show was at Whelan's Upstairs, which is just the upstairs portion of Whelan's, a decent-sized and apparently pretty well-known bar and performance space. It's got an old and half-renovated feel to it (apparently the current owners took over partway through a renovation, and rather than keep the place shut to finish, they decided to open anyway and have live music every night). We'd never been there before, so we didn't know what to expect. Seedy bar? Standing-room-only rock and roll room? Rows of folding chairs?

We were, to say the least, surprised to see the show would be held in a fairly small room, the stage all of six inches off the ground, with the audience seated at eight or ten low candlelit tables and the rest perched on stools in the back of the room. The crowd couldn't have been more than fifty or sixty people. The walls were brick, you could hear traffic through the window and the bar crowd through the opposite wall -- and yet, all of that only added to the charm and the ambiance.

This was the kind of place in which, if the musicians ever hit the big-time, you'd be proud to say you saw them when.

Jenny and I had eaten dinner at Messrs Maguire on the Liffey quays beforehand, and while we were less-than-enthused about the beer (not that it was bad -- it was, as Jenny said, "paint-by-number beers" -- and at least it was one of the rare brewpubs here), the meal had been good. We wanted to take the evening light, so we ordered our ciders, sat at a table right at the front and just stage right of center, and enjoyed the feel of a true date night. (Hey, dinner, a candlelit show, and me wearing a jacket counts as one hell of a date night!)

The opening act, another young Scottish musician, was a perfectly decent singer and keyboardist. I'll be honest, though, I've already forgotten his name; his voice had those high, frail, sappy qualities to them that seem to be "in" now and for the past couple years, but that will probably be out of fashion by 2014. Rachel Sermanni came on -- performing solo this time, without the ladies who had accompanied her in Sligo -- and despite seeming so tiny and so young, she commanded the stage and our attention.

I'll link to the videos below, so you can see for yourself. (These videos are probably about a third of the total show -- there were a few songs, like the one called something like "I Have a Girl," that I wish I could have captured.) Sermanni has impressive range -- of volume, of soulfulness, of fingerwork on the guitar, of songwriting styles. She showed off much of her talents, and did a fair bit of chatting between songs. (Who knew she was so hilarious? Jenny found her hysterical -- listen for her laughter on a couple of the tracks on YouTube.)

The Fog


a pirate song

the burger-van song (our new favorite)


On the way out, we absolutely did NOT peel a poster off the notice board, roll it up, slip it out, and hang it on our door at home. We'd be awesome if we had, though.

And Rachel, if you should ever read this: Please put out a full-length album or four. They'd do you so much more justice than a four-song EP.

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