Imelda May made a very welcome return to her hometown for the first of a two night stint in The O2 on Friday night. I was there for her less than packed Christmas show in 2008 and the difference between then and now was astounding. Not just in the crowd but in the performances too.
In 2008 the performance was a bit marred by the fact that there were not many in attendance. Looking around me on Friday it was clear that things have changed since then, and she has just been going from strength to strength. She appeals to just about everyone. The audience was filled with young and old alike, she’s truly one of a kind.
She was joined on stage by an array of crew dressed as elves, something she joked about later in the show. A montage of vintage Americana, amusing videos and striking pictures flashed across giant video screen behind the band, partially obscured by giant Christmas presents littering the stage. May looked every inch the star in a figure hugging sequined number with her trademark pin blonde curl and red lips in place. “Big Bad Handsome Man” got far more of a reaction that I was expecting. Not that I’m complaining, it personally was my favourite song from Love Tattoo and one of the reasons I became a fan of May in the first place.
She managed to get through most of her back catalogue, as well as a few covers including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”. While it is commendable that she wanted to make her return as good and jam packed as possible, it became a bit bland towards the middle of the set. Mary Black made a surprise appearance for a duet which helped to liven things up. There were a few technical errors that could so easily have turned her appearance into a disaster, but May and Black managed to pull off a wonderful performance of “Mountains to the Sea”. The mood changed depending on the song and it switched several times from a slow engaging ballad such as “Kentish town blues” to a high energy all out performance such as “Roadrunner”.
When Imelda informed the crowd that we were to be treated to a second special guest I don’t think anyone ever imagined it would be someone so unexpected. My jaw dropped as Bono casually strolled on stage to join her for a few songs. To keep things festive they sang “Christmas (Baby please come home)” as well as “Desire” It was a great ending to a very joyous homecoming..
Despite a lull in the mid section, with a surprise like that I don’t think the gig will ever be remembered as anything other than a testament to her success. It’s going to be a hard night to top