As Irish rugby fans spill out from the pubs and onto the streets after Ireland’s victory over England in Aviva Stadium, a fortunate few make their way down to The O2 amid chants of “Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé!” to catch the cast of The Commitments, live in concert. Celebrating 20 years since Alan Parker’s iconic adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s equally iconic novel, the timing couldn’t be better; a country riddled (again) by an economic recession and a soul and R&B revival in full swing.
As soon as Robert Arkins finishes his rendition of ‘Treat Her Right’, he implores the audience to “Put yer working class hands together for the hardest working band in the world…”. The show well and truly begins when Andrew Strong follows up the excellent introduction with the late, great Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Mr. Pitiful’, both of which are among the most recognisable songs from the original soundtrack.
Angeline Ball and Brona Gallagher take centre stage for ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, respectively. Given that Andrew Strong and Glen Hansard are the only full-time professional singers on stage, it’s a tough ask for two actors to scale the heights of songs originally performed by Aretha Franklin though they succeed admirably. Persuaded by the original cast of the Alan Parker movie to sing a tune, Glen Hansard obliges with a cover of “a Dublin soul song”, namely Phil Lynott’s ‘Old Town’. Complete with finger clicks from the audience, it’s a stunning rendition of a song we all know and it convincingly localises The Commitments more than any other song on the set list.
Played late in the set, the highlights of the night were always going to be ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, the former containing an audacious guitar solo from Andrew Strong (who knew that he also played the guitar?) on Hansard’s guitar and the latter which lifts the roof off the O2. In theory, the night should end here; there’s nowhere left to go after such a peak. Unfortunate, then, that an encore of Little Milton’s classic ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ and Spencer Davis’ ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ falls flat and seems almost unremarkable following on from the set’s peak, although such a lacklustre encore isn’t enough to mar the evening.
A mixed crowd – made up largely of those who saw the film on original release, 20 years ago, and a younger generation who are fans of Amy Winehouse and Plan B – filter out from the O2 after 2 hours of swinging and swaying. The night ends, as it began, with chants of “Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé!”. For one night only, Dublin got her soul back.