the workman's club, dublin
Mark Geary has the wistful grin and hangdog furrows of an artist who has supped on disappointment so many times that the taste has grown almost sweet. While friends such as Glen Hansard and Damien Rice have conquered the world, for the grizzled Dubliner obscurity is a way of life.
He is, you sense, well aware of this. On a hometown visit to promote his excellent -- and yes, sad and reflective -- new LP, Songs About Love, Songs About Leaving, the New York-based singer radiates self-deprecating charm and bittersweet bonhomie. The attendance is modest, yet Geary gives the impression that he is relishing every second.
Failure is an old scar that no longer aches. Geary is, in that way, a strange fish. Irish singer/songwriters could be said to suffer from a collective humour bypass. From Paddy Casey to James Vincent McMorrow, they hardly ever let any daylight creep beneath the curtains. The default setting is howling self-pity.
In concert, if not on record, Geary is the outlier. Standing at the edge of the stage, he displays a twinkling wit. Between songs, he is soft-spoken and amusing. When the music kicks in, he is wry, at moments darkly hilarious. At no point does he indulge himself and let the bubbling-under melancholy turn all-encompassing.
This is crucial to his appeal. You could imagine Glen Hansard delivering the line 'she won't call. . . that's how romance is' (from new tune 'Heaven') like he was the only person in creation to have had his heart broken.
Geary, in contrast, throws the words out as if they are a casual observation. He is a regular guy crooning from the perspective of the everyman, every grimace accompanied by a shoulder shrug.
Strumming his guitar, he paints incredibly evocative pictures. On 'Fireflies', Geary deals in cryptic lyrics as his band strikes up a mournful jazzy shuffle. The single 'Get Here' coasts on a nearly strident country beat, though the half-strangulated vocals confirm the jauntiness is all on the surface.
Geary has been knocked about by life a fair bit, you suspect, but he's sufficiently detached from his woes to see the funny side. Far from putting him at a disadvantage, that is surely his great strength. For a superficially gloomy songwriter, he has a curious knack of making the listener feel a little taller as the shutters come down and they shuffle into the night.