Paul Dempsey @ Fowler’s Live, Adelaide (29/01/11)

The man currently known as ” The Black Keys replacement at the Big Day Out”, Paul Dempsey graced little old Adelaide with his presence Saturday night as he played a special acoustic show at Fowlers Live (one of only two he is doing while back Down Under). Despite the unbearably hot temperatures, a sold out crowd packed into the small venue to see the front man of Something For Kate perform material from his debut solo album Everything Is True with support from local lads (and gal) The Salvadors.

By the time the five piece Adelaide band hit the stage, the venue was well over half full already and their upbeat style of pop-rock (think Vampire Weekend meets The Holidays meets the Last Dinosaurs) had people moving and grooving somewhat enthusiastically, however the heat made it hard to fully show appreciation towards their popular hits Wilson and Atacama Disco which was the show closer. And while these guys are a well-established local act, playing the Adelaide circuit often, there was something off about their set tonight, perhaps it was the heat or the larger crowd but in between songs it felt awkward. There were long pauses with little to no audience interaction and when they did talk, no one could hear them because the sound was off-balance. All of this though was a sign that the band is still learning, and that’s not a bad thing. Once they have mastered the intricacies of audience interaction and participation their live show will be phenomenal as they already have the catchy songs and musical talent.

After an abnormally long wait (or again, perhaps it was the heat) the giant that is Dempsey- he is over two metres tall- appeared on the stage to much enthusiasm from the crowd. After a quick chat with us (referring to Adelaide as “The Kingdom”) and a heckle or two from some drunk/egotistical guy up the back, he launched into his opening song Bats, the first song off his album. Although the album itself is not acoustic, I much prefer it in its bare form rather than the studio version. There was something about the intimacy and innocence of Dempsey on stage alone with just a guitar that really made it something special. He powered through every song on the album, with crowd favourites The Great Optimist, Take Us To Your Leader and Ramona Was A Waitress.

To mix things up a bit, Dempsey threw in some surprises, with a cover of MGMT’s Time To Pretend the highlight of the evening. How he even managed to pull off turning the synth-pop song into an acoustic masterpiece was a mystery, but the man did it. He also threw in a couple of Something For Kate songs, including Beautiful Sharks. These additions had the long-time fans yelling in appreciation as he payed homage to his roots as a musician. He continued to impress as he played a new song which was well received by his audience of admirers- most of whom were female.

By the time he had finished his set, it was well close to an hour since he took to the stage and of course everyone was expecting an encore and Dempsey obviously delivered, playing two more songs before thanking his fans once more and leaving the stage. As people began to file out, a sudden surge of applause from the front saw him reappear for a second encore. He admitted at this stage he had no more set list to play so opened it up to the audience for suggestions. This of course started an eruption of yelling and screaming, much to his amusement and bewilderment. He closed with yet another two-song encore, with the epic finale seeing him jam it out alone on stage to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run– something he once again managed to surprisingly pull off.

Dempsey’s charisma, wit and charm make for a lethal combination. Add to that his vocal talent and song writing ability and you have a truly amazing live artist. Being alone on a bare stage and managing to capture the audience’s full attention in conditions like those at Fowlers is hard to do for even the best, but he does it. He is a true entertainer, both musically and in his dialogue, and I can guarantee you he had everybody in that room swooning by shows end.