REVIEW: Dermot Kennedy makes the most of sold-out Fillmore show

Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco on November 13, 2018. Photos: Martin Lacey.

SAN FRANCISCO — For anyone surprised at the reception Dermot Kennedy received at the Fillmore Tuesday night—a sold-out headlining show—you likely weren’t alone. As the show wound down, the Irish singer-songwriter received an ovation of nearly two minutes, during which time he was able to compose himself to say only “thank you.” His bus sat outside, with a tire puncture so severe that the rim touched the pavement. For all we know, it was a self-inflicted wound. Even the bus didn’t want to leave.

Dermot Kennedy isn’t as widely known as other Irish solo musicians like Hozier or Glen Hansard (in the U.S.), but many of the fans at the Fillmore were well acquainted with his songs. He opened with “All My Friends,” his near-growl blending into the backing keyboard melody. He then picked up an acoustic guitar and carried the melody on fan favorite “A Closeness,” with his band chiming in with an appropriate flourish here and there.

Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy.

Now’s a good time to get into Kennedy’s sound, which is generally folk, but set to an electronica and hip-hop framework. The band consisted of a bassist-synth player, a keyboardist and a drummer. And the drummer most definitely got a workout, performing what’s typically a backing track in hip-hop or rap-influenced pop. On “A Closeness,” the off-kilter drum fill took the song to a higher level.

“Shelter” began with just Kennedy singing over twinkling keyboard and glasses clinking at the bar. But then it exploded in an eletronica-induced meditation; not unlike one of Alt-J’s better tracks. On cuts like “Lost” and “Young & Free,” Dermot Kennedy sang at a full bellow. On “Moment Passed,” the bellow was at an apocalyptic level, set against deep voice samples.

Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy.

Because Kennedy’s songs are often slow burners, taking their time to develop, there were plenty of slower, more meditative moments as well. But two songs got the tender ballad treatment: “Boston,” which Kennedy introduced as a song about a perfect summer he spent in the city on a student exchange program; and “For Island Fires and Family.” The latter was “about the person who provides comfort when everything is shitty.” This one he performed solo.

“Power Over Me” was the closest Kennedy got to a pop song; it was the most traditionally melodic. “Dancing Under Red Skies” led into “An Evening.” Together, the two tunes provided a complete movement, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Following his biggest hit, “Glory,” Kennedy took that aforementioned break, seemingly at a loss for words, before concluding with “After Rain,” to which fans loudly sang the outro over simple guitar strumming.

Grace Carter

Grace Carter.

English singer-songwriter Grace Carter opened the show, making her debut Bay Area performance after flying in from Europe earlier in the day.

Carter, who shares some of the same hallmark vocal delivery and song-writing as Adele, performed a seven-song set of personal vignettes, many of which shined a light on her life growing up. She opened with “Saving Grace,” which she wrote for her mother and other strong women in her life. Single “Ashes” was a bassy R&B tune, while “Heal Me” had a a synth part during the verses that was reminiscent of electronica. While most of Grace Carter’s songs were ballads, “Fight for You” was an uptempo danceable cut. She concluded with her most recent single, and likely her most personal song, “Why Her, Not Me,” which she wrote about her birthfather abandoning her and her mother.

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