There was an ecstatic greeting for Damien Dempsey when he hopped onstage at Six Ten Bangs, a new trendy bar and nightclub in Asbury Park. He responded with “Negative Vibes,” the reggae-fied anthem for positive thinking.
“I’m never gonna let/your negative vibes get through to my psyche,” he shouted, empowering the crowd to sing along.
He toasted the crowd with a Guinness. “My ancestors put all the Guinness kids through college with their pints,” he joked. “Of course, they never got around to putting us through college!”
Dempsey’s new album Almighty Love was well-known by the fans, and the songs fit well with the ones from his rich back catalog. On the new song “Canadian Geese” he uses the flock of birds flying over the homeland as a visual to describe the emigration of Irish youth during this desperate economy.
He has chronicled Irish life throughout the years, including the Irish slave trafficking by the British on 2007’s To Hell or Barbados, or the rampant drug trafficking that was ushered in by The Celtic Tiger on “Ghosts of Overdoses” from 2004’s Seize the Day.
Like many great artists, Dempsey’s songs are so much more than tunes. They tell stories of Ireland in the same spirit that Bob Marley describes the island of Jamaica or Bruce Springsteen sketches the shadows and light in the neighborhoods of Asbury Park.
Dempsey took the opportunity to tip his hat to Springsteen. He said he is still buzzing from supporting “The Boss” during his wildly successful Irish tour during the summer.
“It’s a month later and I’m still up on a cloud thinking about it,” Dempsey said from the stage. “I still can’t believe I hung out with Bruce at the hotel, singing songs until three in the morning.
“If that wasn’t enough, he shook my hand after that and said, ‘Thanks, great show.’ I haven’t washed my hand since. He’s the best performer I’ve ever seen.”
This reviewer might say the same thing about Damo and his crackerjack backing band. They breathed new life into his classics like “Sing All Our Cares Away” from 2005’s Shots, and new classics like “Bustin’ Outta Here” and the call for tolerance that is “Chris and Stevie” from Almighty Love.
“Even big gorillas like me need love,” he said as he introduced “Hold Me,” his disarming romantic ballad.
“Girl I've been hurt in the past, cut up/I find it hard to bring down my guard/Hold me closely and softly sweetly kiss my lips, my lips,” he sang.
With the combination of his square jaw, trim physique and the salivating female bartenders nearby that were looking on adoringly, this writer suspects Damo doesn’t go without “spooning” for too long when he’s on the road!
The unclassifiable Damo shifts gears from the romantic to the hardscrabble realities on Dublin’s streets in the set. “Some boys want to get me / Because I hit one back / I still can hear the crack / Of his head on the concrete / Doin' drugs and drinkin' / Makes you so depressed / And then you think you're blessed / When you're dropping a tablet,” he sings on “Factories,” a set highlight.
“They’re trying to wean Irish students from their history in schools nowadays, and I think it is my duty to keep that history alive through songs,” Dempsey announced defiantly.
He showered the crowd with a number of traditional ditties, including a rap-ified “Rocky Road to Dublin,” “What’s the News” and “The Auld Triangle,” which closed his two hour set.
Hop a flight, get a babysitter, and do whatever you have to do to see this Irish treasure on our shores!
For tour dates, visit www.damiendempsey.com