Paul Dempsey and Olympia @ Metro Theatre Review

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Olivia Bartley has every right to be a sweaty, exhausted mess as she stands on stage in front of hundreds of early arrivals at the Metro Theatre (19 August) for Paul Dempsey.

She is multi-tasking between guitarist, vocalist, keyboardist and bandleader; all no mean feat as separate entities entirely. Together, it's a responsibility that could frankly break a lesser artist. If that wasn't enough, she also has a second shift impending as an all-hands-on-deck multi-instrumentalist in the headliner's backing band. It's a huge ask of anyone... and yet, Bartley exudes cool.

She performs as if there's nothing to the high notes she's belting out or the perfect guitar tone that she's dialled in. By simultaneously appearing effortless and yet putting as much effort in as humanly possible, Bartley proves to have an arresting — and, at times, wholly mesmerising — stage presence.

We've not even started on Bartley's music, which she performs under the name Olympia. It's a cohesive and cognitive blend of retro pop, blue-light-disco dance and sharply-angled indie rock; with a touch of soul adding a sting in the tail through Bartley's impressive vocal range. After a few years of build up, her debut LP 'Self Talk' has proven to be the breakthrough Bartley deserves. Unquestionably tonight's MVP.

Following on from an artist like Olympia is a tall order. Thankfully, at over six feet, erstwhile Something For Kate frontman Paul Dempsey is well up to the task. That band, by the way, is only brought up for contextual purposes, given Dempsey plays nothing by them during his set.

Rather, he delves extensively into both of his solo LPs – 2009's 'Everything Is True' and May's 'Strange Loop' – with equally-impressive results. Highlights from the former include a tender, stripped-back 'Out The Airlock', complete with gently-understated audience sing-along, as well as a spirited 'Fast Friends' and the soulful 'Have You Fallen Out Of Love?'.

Cuts from the latter, meanwhile, pick up the energy in a big way: 'Volunteers' and 'Morningless' ensure shoe-shuffling and hip-shaking among an at-times timid room; while the majestic seven-minute album opener 'The True Sea' leaves jaws agape thanks to its blistering, intense live rendition that layers on the guitars until they've seemingly burned out every last string.

It's a testament to Dempsey as a performer that, some 20 years after rising through the ranks of bars and sticky-floored clubs nationwide, he perhaps holds a greater reverence to his name now more than ever before.


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