'Imelda May gives impassioned monologue about performing in Manchester in concert that moves between melancholy and celebratory'
Imelda May at BGE Theatre, Dublin review
Imelda May performed in Manchester just two days before a suicide bomber killed 23 people at an Ariana Grande gig in the city. The incident has shaken her badly, as the Dubliner explained during an impassioned monologue halfway through her sold out BGE Theatre show.
She revealed that she had likewise been in Paris, hanging out with her pals U2, when terrorists went on a rampage at the Bataclan in November 2015. An employee of her record label, with whom she had been close, had died in the attack. How do you make sense of such horrors?
This was an intense moment during a concert that moved between the melancholy and the celebratory. However, May (42) carried it off, her sadness and sincerity never tipping into pop star preachiness.
The same balancing act can be observed on her latest album, Life Love Flesh Blood.
The LP was recorded in the aftermath of her split from her husband (and now very much former bandmate) Darell Higham yet May sidestepped break-up record cliches, finding humour in the bleakness and seeing hope beyond the despair.
A change in life circumstances also led to a change in image and the May leading her band on stage at the BGE cut a very different figure from the rockabilly queen who once duetted with Bono.
She was dressed in a dark frock, fashionable fringe swooping just over her eyes. A similar mystique informed the songs, with May’s musical rebirth signalled from the outset with the opening one-two punch of Call Me and When It’s My Time.
Artists veering in a new direction often risk alienating the fanbase. Yet May’s public were respectful towards the material, no matter that it is a considerable distance removed from the old timey rock ’n roll with which she earned her reputation.
But the respect was mutual and with her musicians cutting loose the audience was rewarded for its patience with rollicking versions of favourites such as Big Bad Handsome Man (originally a valentine to Hingham) and the Hellfire Club, her love letter to the notorious County Dublin hunting lodge.
"You’re the best audience of the tour," she said. "I often tell people that – but I really mean it this time". The cheers that ran around the packed venue confirmed the love flowed both ways.
Imelda May performs at BGE Theatre tonight and tomorrow.