Gig Review: Lisa Hannigan, Cork Opera House

The Cork Opera House stage must feel like a second home to Lisa Hannigan. 

Lisa Hannigan on stage at Cork Opera House. Picture: Bríd O'Donovan

At the first edition of Sounds From a Safe Harbour in 2015, she showcased a lot of the songs which would form her acclaimed third album, At Swim, alongside collaborator Aaron Dessner, guitarist in The National.

Prior to Christmas 2016, she returned, a little raspy from a string of gigs, to put on a masterful performance. 

And now she’s back again, as the first of three big Opera House shows for the second Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival. 

She’s joined by the RTÉ Symphony Concert Orchestra, which begins with a stunning performance of ‘Ever Last’ by Mica Levi (only the second time it’s been performed, according to Bryce Dessner, introducing proceedings).

Hannigan’s songs of displacement, love, and prayers for the dying hardly need more emotional heft, but the orchestra adds exciting swells and a sense of awe. After a quiet rendition of ‘Anahorish’ by Seamus Heaney, the formerly twee ‘Little Bird’ becomes an emotive punch. ‘Knots’, her first hit, has Hannigan beaming widely, singing about high heels and old dresses as the crescendo arrives. It feels like she’s going to take off, such is the energy. 

“Now it’s time for a sad song,” she jokes, plucking her way into ‘Lille’. Nearby, Bryce’s brother, Aaron Dessner, is an inconspicuous presence, switching from piano to electric guitar.

Hannigan sings in a low register, but when she hits the high notes, as she does on the restrained ‘Barton’, they’re majestic.

She’s an enthralling yet unassuming, performer (“These songs were written in my kitchen”). The show is a short one at a little over an hour, Hannigan returning alone with a mandolin for ‘Passenger’ — ‘Where’s my orchestra?!” she demands.

The thing is, Hannigan is such an amazing talent that she doesn’t really need one. Here’s to her next Opera House performance.

Star Rating: 4/5

Sounds From a Safe Harbour continues over the weekend, with free shows by hot acts such as Soule and Bantum; the debut outing of Mona Lo, a new project by David Kitt and Margie Lewis; the soon to be huge Saint Sister; Ships, a perennial festival favourite; and some band called The National.


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