Glen Austin and the RTE Contempo Quartet – Concert Review by Fran Winston
The Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoighre, Co Dublin
Saturday 5th December 2015
They say you can tell a good song by how versatile and adaptable to other mediums and genres it is. Many incredibly overproduced dance tracks have been adapted into sublime acoustic tracks and here in the concert of their album New Airs string quartet Contempo gave a classical spin to some well know Irish rock tracks as well as one or two traditional tunes.
The premise may sound crazy – these songs are so ingrained in people’s mind that to mess with them could be considered sacrilege in some quarters. However Contempo are known as the Abba of the classical world and they really know how to find the meaning in a song. The foursome – who hail from Romania, were not familiar with these tracks before they began the New Airs project simply telling producer Glen Austin they wanted to rock. Incredibly he selected the tracks and gave them orchestral sheet music so the group undertook the recording without any knowledge of the lyrics or meaning of the song. Instead they allowed the music to speak for itself finding the truth in it as they went along. And boy does it work.
For the live performance on Saturday they took to the stage without a running order preferring instead to see what flow worked when they were performing. From the opening notes they were truly captivating as they treated the audience to versions of songs from top Irish groups including Kodaline and The Script to name just a couple.
They also tackled a couple of well known ballads including Raglan Road. This is like a history of the last 30 years of Irish music but with a twist. A particular highlight was their version of The Boys are Back in Town which rocked more than some versions I have seen performed by rock supergroups. It definitely would have gotten a seal of approval from Phil Lynott.
This was a short concert since they only performed one album. However the length didn’t detract from the enjoyment. They did a marvellous job breathing new life into the songs and their own enthusiasm for the music was infectious. The only track I had a bit of a an issue with was their version of U2s With or Without You since they didn’t veer much from the original. Personally I would have picked a rockier U2 song to add to the collection. This aside this was a wonderful evening that really engaged the audience and gave a whole new perspective on some much loved music.
If you thought classical music was stuffy you couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a fresh and vibrant gig that left the audience cheering and clapping and humming the songs all the way home. And they’ve made it impossible to listen to them in he same way again.
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