Following some strong support by Dundalk based alternative ensemble Third Smoke, homegrown heroes Ham Sandwich strutted onto the stage at Dublin’s Olympia theatre around about 9 pm on Friday May 29th to thunderous applause.
The collective from Kells wasted no time bursting into a exhilarating rendition of “Hold Me Up”; the enthralling opener from their latest chart topping album, Stories from the Surface. Its gripping guitars combined with its soft but stirring melody got the show off to an exciting start, which was enhanced all the more by the infectious enthusiasm of the band members themselves.
Frontwoman Niamh Farrell and guitarist Podge MacNamee managed to own the stage between them as the set moved through “White Fox” and “Animals”. Keeping things fun and interactive by trading banter with each other and the crowd, both musicians emanated an amazing presence and personality that left you in no doubt as to the fact that they were born to be there.
The band sailed back towards newer territory next to deliver “Square 3”. Niamh and Podge began by flaunting some quirky dance moves ahead of a perfectly harmonised duet during the first verse. The outstanding orchestral section added extra emotional weight to the instrumental breaks, while the valiant vocalist bounced around ecstatically, clearly having as good a time leading the show as the audience were bearing witness to it.
Once things transitioned into the marching band beat of “Models”, Podge hopped up alongside drummer Ollie Murphy to help add emphasis to the pounding percussion before directing his attention back to the congregation for another display of showmanship. The orchestra loomed large again as Niamh continued to prove how powerful her voice is in reality, encouraging the crowd to “sing it if you know it”. Waltzing around like a true rock star, she remained a charismatic component of the composition’s epic climax, despite its lack of lyrics.
After a little lighthearted plugging of Stories from the Surface for those that didn’t yet own it, the troupe plunged into the warm and reserved opening of “Satellite”. Then they went back to their roots with “Words”; the first offering of the evening from their 2008 debut album, Carry the Meek. Keeping things old school afterwards, we were treated to a vivacious version of “Never Talk”. This prefaced a return to the present for the pleasant acoustic introduction of “In Perfect Rhymes”, which thrilled as it built steadily to reach a fast and furious finale.
Niamh announced afterwards that she’d be contributing some instrumental skills of her own despite having hands that were apparently very sweaty! This induced a nice moment of laughter as the troupe geared up for “Long Distance”. Podge insisted that the fans sing as loud as they can and proceeded to engage in an amusing set of squats. He looked absolutely elated in the knowledge that his antics were proving to be a huge source of entertainment for the masses.
“Apollo” bridged the gap from here to “Fandango”, which, to be clear, is “another” song, not a “love” song, just in case anyone other than Podge misheard Niamh’s description! The playful exchange between the two generated an appropriately upbeat atmosphere going into the optimistic introductory salvo. An eager execution ensured that this wonderfully sunny and sanguine pop/rock anthem was just as irresistibly catchy live as it is on record.
White Fox‘s inaugural effort, “The Naturist”, arrived in its aftermath, uplifting through its riveting chorus and building beautifully to provoke a passionate response. As it grew towards a superbly spirited crescendo, confetti rained down over the venue, covering performers and spectators alike in a terrific haze of multi-coloured mayhem.
At this point, Third Smoke were brought back into the fray to provide back-up for “To Replicate”. Once it was over, the band made the duplicitous declaration that they had reached their swan song, with Podge joking that “there’s no level of mystery with Ham Sandwich, it’s all in your face!” Niamh chimed in to send those gathered into hysterics by telling them that they’re “all fucking amazing!” Soon later the gentle harmony of “Ants” began to wash over the room, going on to sail smoothly through the heartfelt choruses.
After it came to an ecstatic end, the quintet delighted their fateful followers by charging back out to serenade them with a cover of “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads. Then it really was time for the final farewell as the bracing beat of recent hit single “Illuminate” took off. Its happy harmony quickly established an amiable ambience that was simultaneously relaxing and rousing. The vigorous vocals and avid instrumentation resulted in a consistently captivating display as a seemingly endless onslaught of mammoth balloons were hurled into the crowd and belted around the venue. It brought the show to a suitably bright and buoyant close.
Ham Sandwich certainly know how to show their fans a good time and those devoted to them undoubtedly appreciate their efforts. Several times during the set Niamh asserted that she wished they could go on playing all night long and I don’t doubt that the vast majority of people present would have been more than willing to let them. These guys are truly awesome artists and entertainers whose tremendous talent makes for a stunning onstage spectacle that’s very much worth taking the time to experience.