This was my seventh gig of Brendan’s Ark tour this year and the first to take place in my home country! How nice to be only 45 km removed from the venue for a change.
The weather couldn’t have been better. Utrecht was basking in gorgeous sunshine when my friend and I arrived. It was a perfect summer’s day.
The Domkerk is a truly beautiful building, still very much in active use as a place of worship. Its atmopsheric interior formed the perfect setting for Brendan’s pensive music.
Tonight saw a different kind of flock gather in the pews, however. Brendan was headlining the first day of the Summer Darkness festival, something the organisers had wanted to have him do since the festival’s inception.
With a capacity of 650 people, the venue was sold out. It was nice to see so many people turn out to see Brendan, and a far cry from some of the 100 person gigs earlier in the year.
The crowd were a sea of black; hardly surprising, given the nature of the festival. Some people must have spent the entire day in front of the mirror, preparing to be seen at their most vivid.
With this audience as resplendent as the church in which they had congregated, the scene was set. There was a sense of great expectation in the air, the atmosphere electric and laden with childlike excitement. This gathering were surely no less faithful than the flock that assemble here on a Sunday morning. We, too, were here to be edified, fulfilled and give praise.
Initially, we had all politely filed along the pews, but once we were neatly seated, one of the organisers announced that we were free to desert the pews and stand in front of the stage. Well, he didn’t need to repeat himself. We quickly scuttled to the front and I took up position just a couple of metres back from the front of the stage.
The pews would have been less than ideal, because they were situated at 90 degrees to the stage, so a crick in one’s neck would have been the likely result of spending the entire evening with one’s head craned to the far left.
My new position also concerned me, however, because it placed me at some distance from the PA, which was way off to the side, next to the pews.
Unfortunately, there was no way to position myself in front of the PA without being so close as to risk worse sound than I was likely to get from this new position, not to mention that that vantage point would have been significantly worse for viewing the gig, which, let’s face it, is what it’s actually all about.
So, with the PA behind me and off to the side, I decided to simply hope for the best, sound-wise.
After a short introduction by the festival organiser, Brendan took to the stage. The first detail of note was that Rachel Haden had been replaced on bass by Rory O’Brien.
The sound was crisp and clear throughout the frequency range, even from my vantage point. The people still seated in the pews, however, were initially shocked and awed by the high volume. As the drum intro to The Arcane kicked in, people could be seen clutching at their ears. When this was observed by the sound engineer, he mercifully adjusted the volume for them.
Since the last time I had seen Brendan, Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren had been added to the set. Gone were You Never Loved This City and Voyage Of Bran.
Song To The Siren was a particularly mesmerising rendition and I could quite happily have listened to it continue for another five minutes.
You could have heard a pin drop after the applause following each song died down. Every bleep from a mobile phone and every click of a camera’s shutter swelled to an obtrusive level. The audience were remarkably reverential and appreciative, united in their appreciation of this man’s music.
As usual, it seemed to end upon beginning, but an immense, palpable sense of satisfaction pervaded the air afterwards. Brendan had quite literally thrilled us all.
This was, perhaps, the best of the seven gigs I’ve seen him play this year. The combination of venue and audience anticipation was unparalleled, I think, and the fact we were allowed to stand created a much greater sense of intimacy than had been present at, for example, the Union Chapel, which is otherwise also an atmospheric venue.
There are some excellent photos of the gig on the Summer Darkness site.