Review of his gig in Whelan's, Dublin February 23rd 2001
My first impression of Tom McRae is that he is one seriously intense individual - at times on-stage in Whelan's tonight he looks like a man possessed, with his eyes burning into the audience. The music he creates is every bit as intense as he comes across. His self-titled debut album, released at the back end of 2000, was for my money the best album of the year. It is a collection of songs brilliant enough to make you laugh, cry and scream in one sitting.
Tonight's set begins with 'Bloodless', a bitter but brilliant tune which is one of the best songs on the album. This song demonstrates Tom's song-writing ability and features one of my favourite song quotes ever - 'Trying to stay awake gave yourself a caffeine headache / to hide the taste of sleep.' After 'Bloodless' we are treated to all the best songs from his debut. These include the fragile 'You Cut Her Hair', 'Hidden Camera Show' and '2nd Law' to name but a few. The absolute highlight of the gig though is 'A and B song' which is totally soul-stirring in its intensity. In the album version of this song there are backing vocals of 'The storm is rising in me / the blood is rising in me'. Tonight there are no backing vocals. Instead there is a cello player and he succeeds in building the storm with his instrument better than any backing vocalist could. Amazing.
The one complaint I had with the gig was the number of chatterboxes in the place. It baffles me as to why people would come to a gig like this to talk. The intensity of this music requires silence. Tom McRae certainly didn't appreciate the talking either. He frequently pauses between lines in songs, as if to hush the talkers.
There is no doubt that Tom McRae goes beyond the singer-songwriter stereotype. His music is powerful yet fragile, as is his voice. But the lyrics. They read like poetry on paper - take for instance the song 'Draw down the Stars' - 'Like a snake-eating snake you confuse me / who's killer who's captive who's free.' His music is moving, his voice is brilliant and his messages are plain for all to see. There was only one new song played tonight, a future B-side called 'Streetlight' and it was every bit as good as any of the songs on his album. If this is the quality of his future b-sides, I can't wait to hear the next album. The only thing we have to worry about is how long we can keep him a secret.