Evenings at Vicar Street

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Dot writes: what do Weird Al Yankovic and The Proclaimers have in common? Well, they’re all male and came to prominence in the ’80s, they’ve played Vicar Street in Dublin in the last couple of months (Weird Al on 6th October, The Proclaimers on 20th November), and Ken and I went to see them. On the strength of these connections I’m squashing them into a single blogpost. In other ways, of course, they’re rather different. Weird Al is a flamboyant American who sings comedy versions of other people’s songs, plus some looser pastiches of his own, generally sending up the popular music zeitgeist, and has a recent album cover that depicts him as a grandiose fascist leader. The Proclaimers are two resolutely normal blokes with powerful Scottish accents who sing vigorous yet romantic songs of their own without making the remotest attempt to fit in with any trends, and tend to be photographed shouting, because of the name.

Weird Al had a number one hit album in the US last year, Mandatory Fun, and while his show incorporated plenty of hits from his large back catalogue – for example the Michael Jackson parodies ‘Fat’ and ‘Eat It’ and, in the encore, my all-time favourite of his, ‘Yoda’ – it was dominated by the most recent album, as you can see from the setlist. He started with ‘Tacky’, his version of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, which he started singing outside the venue; a screen at the back of the stage showed live footage of him passing various bemused Dubliners on his way. Much use was made of the screen. Weird Al and his band made numerous costume changes, during which we saw spoof interviews he’d conducted, snippets of quasi-documentary about him, and bits of songs he wasn’t performing that evening. He didn’t actually talk to the audience at all that I can remember – his speaking voice was mediated entirely through film. Anyway, it was a fun, lively show, full of good tunes. In many ways it was like hearing a highly competent, extremely eclectic covers band, but with more jokes and remarkably silly dancing. The crowd was generally younger than us.

The crowd for The Proclaimers, on the other hand, was generally older than us. I noted the predominance of clean-shaven men – a sure sign of the older generation in these beardy days. It was a seated gig and Ken and I found ourselves sharing a table with a very nice couple from the North called Bernie and Brendan, who told us about their university age son and chatted about the Newry area (they’re from that area, Ken works there). Just in front of us was the Very Enthusiastic Table – two couples who kept leaping to their feet, raising their hands in the air, and making strangely incongruous rapper hand gestures. It was a keen crowd and also rather a smartly-dressed one; I felt scruffy beside glamorously turned-out older ladies in careful makeup and sparkly tops, all getting massively into the music. And the music was good, too. The Proclaimers have an excellent backing band and a large back catalogue of sweet tunes, powerfully sung; though they have a new album recently out, the show was overwhelmingly drawn from their best-known records, the releases of the 80s. They didn’t chat to the audience much, either, but there weren’t any film clips; it was all straight-up, no-nonsense, sing-your-heart-out music, with just a few genial asides. To be honest I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I wasn’t quite in the right mood for them; they felt a bit safe and over-familiar and I was itching for something more rock or more weird. But I don’t intend that as a criticism of them, because I think they have written some excellent songs, and I like the political edge in much of their material – they’re not just romantics. It’s only that I’ve been listening to too much Something More recently.

The Proclaimers were supported by Pete Williams. I’d never heard of him before but I quite liked him and his band. His voice reminded me of Kevin Rowland from Dexys Midnight Runners. It’s always hard to do justice to the support band if one doesn’t know any of the songs, but it seemed like tight, tuneful material.

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