On the eve of the winter solstice Kíla brought their Féile Kíla to the National Stadium on the South Circular Road (féile = festival). For those unfamiliar with the band: Kíla are an eight piece band that Songlines Magazine described as folk fusion - a more apt description than the usual trad world hybrid, though they are that as well. Last year Kíla celebrated 30 years as a band and to mark the occasion they put on their first Féile Kíla. It was a resounding success, with none other than president Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in attendance.
The National Stadium is a boxing stadium that hosts only the occasional gig nowadays. In the early 90s I probably attended more concerts there than in any other Dublin venue. I saw Emmylou Harris there, the Black Crowes, Status Quo, OMD and best of all the Pogues with Joe Strummer (Joe filling in for Shane McGowan). Another memorable Stadium gig I was at was Joe Ely, who was playing Dublin the night prior to Bruce Springsteen in 1993. The Boss himself was at that show, standing very near me in the audience and joining Joe for the encores.
All this went through my mind as I entered the Stadium last Saturday. In an interview on RTÉ Today Kíla's Colm and Brian had talked about their plans. Brian described the venue as a “cavernous place” that they had to fill somehow. In order to do this they brought along many guests, as well as a screen with visuals and best of all performers parading through the audience with exotic structures on sticks, like the work of Galway street theatre company Macnas.
Support came from Dublin based Afrobeat group Yankari, tenor John Scott and a large troupe of bodhrán players. The latter were wearing impressive costumes, face masks and branches with fairy lights. Kíla's Rónán Ó Snodaigh gives bodhrán classes and these were his students. It was a thrilling spectacle. Next the bodhrán players left the stage though some stayed behind and once they removed their masks we saw that the members of Kíla had been amongst them.
The gig proper started with the tour de force that opens their most recent live album 'Alive Beo': 'Mutatu', 'Pota Óir' and 'Electric Landlady'. Kíla are always an attack on all senses, in a good way, and they radiate energy. The sound at the Stadium was excellent. I could hear the clicking of the bodhrán stick on the wood, amidst their huge wall of sound. Quieter moments were provided by the beautiful tune 'Crann na bPinginí', when a trapeze artist danced through the air above the audience, and 'Babymouse', sung by Colm Ó Snodaigh accompanied by a choir. Whilst I am generally not a fan of choirs at gigs in this instance it worked well.
Father Peter McVerry was invited onto the stage and he spoke about the homeless crisis. Kíla were donating a euro from each ticket to the Peter McVerry Trust, and charity buckets circulated among the audience.
Other guests were singer songwriter Hank Wedel, two acrobatic dancers and a step dancing drag queen. Special mention must go to the performance artists who walked among the audience and the beautiful creations they held aloft. There were giant jellyfish, a large monster which revolved and turned into a man in a suit, and snake-like creatures. All of this was designed by fiddle player Dee Armstrong and it really worked in that it filled the performance stage and made you feel like you were part of the show as opposed to just watching it – like a U2 show with simpler, though just as affective, props. Bono famously said about the band, “Kíla are right there at the cusp of it. Somehow you get the feeling they lit the fuse for the big bang".
The set included my personal favourites 'Seo Mo Leaba', with all band members contributing to an intricate vocal arrangement, and the magnificent tin whistle led piece 'Her Royal Waggeldy Toes'. The show ended with 'Cardinal Knowledge' and 'Tóg É Go Bog É' (= take it easy), the title track of their classic album from 1997, recently released on vinyl.
Kíla are currently road testing material for a studio album to be recorded in the new year. They also headlined a free New Year's Day concert at Dublin's Meeting House Square in Temple Bar.