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It is difficult to write this review without first acknowledging the tragic gas explosion that occurred the morning of this concert, just blocks from the Carolina Theatre. However, the resilience of Durham, a city in the middle of celebrating its 150th anniversary, shone throughout the day and was also personified in this performance by The Gloaming. Iarla Ó Lionáird, the band's vocalist, handled the heavy situation with grace and hopefully brought comfort to grieving audience members. In fact, several of The Gloaming's songs from their latest album, The Gloaming 3, address the sensation of grief and of losing family members through the words of the late Liam Ó Muirthile, whose poems supplied lyrics to several songs. It was comforting to know that, despite the events of the day, music could still bring joy and comfort to an audience in Durham.
The Gloaming is described online as a "contemporary Irish/American group," which only tells half the story. Yes, they bring "contemporary" styles to traditional Irish music. Some members are Irish, some are American. It's more difficult to sum up the improvisatory soundscape the five musicians create together. Sometimes The Gloaming is also described as a "supergroup," which simply means a group of already famous musicians coming together as an ensemble. This also makes sense, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Since forming in 2011, the band has produced three albums and a concert recording, toured internationally, and holds a yearly residency at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. The musicians are experts in their own fields, so together they have no need no desire to stick to the "norms" of either traditional Irish or contemporary American music.
The performance itself flowed ahead without much verbal explanation, the band choosing instead to merge songs together for 10-15 minutes at a time. Sometimes relaxed and atmospheric, at other times jubilant and dance-like, the performance seemed to touch on every mood. Iarla Ó Lionáird's tenor voice was as clear as any classically-trained singer but with expert inflections and ornamentation in the sean-nós style. Pianist Thomas Bartlett, a highly expressive musician, took on many different roles. Along with guitarist Dennis Cahill, the two sometimes played a mesmerizing drone in a more ambient role. Other times, even the inside piano strings were utilized in order to add a more haunting texture.
Then there were the fiddles, with Martin Hayes' wild, unbridled reels and Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh's more reserved but no less passionate phrases. Technically, the latter's instrument was not quite a fiddle but actually a hybrid violin, the hardanger d'amore, an instrument with roots in Norway. Even more unique than this was Raghallaigh's improvisatory performance with Bartlett in the middle of the concert, playing into pre-coded distortion and looping effects that were unpredictable, even to him. The result was quite magnetizing.
Overall, The Gloaming gave a lovely and uplifting performance – it had been a sorrowful day for many, but these musicians along with the crew at the Carolina Theatre were able to let the music continue.