The Gloaming Visit The Theatre at Ace Hotel

By Allyson Nobles
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Ireland’s The Gloaming hopped from coast to coast, including sold out stints in New York and Boston, before coming to Los Angeles for their only west coast stop. UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) welcomed them on April 12th to a crowd of eager concert goers.

This was just one of many exciting international ventures CAP UCLA hosted this season, which Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds elaborated, “We curate programming and the work of artists from around the world to make sure that they have a platform inside of Los Angeles.” Additionally, Ace Hotel’s “incredible gesture and remarkable commitment to artists” did not go unmentioned by Edmunds, who stressed the importance of preserving the historic theater and their restoration, bringing it back to life in 2014, after sitting vacant for 25 years.

In the same year, The Gloaming additionally put out their self-titled debut album, the artists beginning to tell a new story of their own. Before the music had even begun, the memorable evening was already well on its way, which Edmunds closed out on. “A job of yours together with The Gloaming tonight is to think of that fog and think of those lights and see how we find each other and make a memory which we could never do without one another.”

The Gloaming fluidly mix Irish traditional elements with more ethereal sounds akin to genres such as post-rock and even minimalism. A major component of their execution is in the distinct layering of each instrument. The importance well-weighted in dictating the tone depending on which instrumentalist was taking the lead. Every song has its own formula, a series of entrances and exits, laments and jigs, taking the audience on a captivating ride throughout the night.

Throughout the evening, each musician brought a wildly different color to the stage’s canvas. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s “sean-nós” (Irish for “old style”) singing ignited the improvisational undertones that propel the texts from the flattened page back to their origin in spoken word. He introduced a track from their new album, “My Lady who has Found the Tomb Unattended,” as a poem he arranged for song, to emphasize the fluidity of their music and its foundation in Irish spoken tradition.

The two quintessential elements in the underbelly of each song are in guitarist Dennis Cahill and pianist Thomas Bartlett, whose consistency in rhythm as well as texture deepened the more melodic moments. Cahill’s guitar pulsed and drove the more playful songs while Bartlett’s execution on the keys was mesmerizing to watch, as if he were personifying what was being played with his emotional performance.

Finally, it was the relationship between fiddler Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on his ten-stringed hardanger d’amore that solidified the captivating evening. Hayes was consistently omniscient, always observant and engaged even when he wasn’t playing. His more lyrical sound melded with Ó Raghallaigh to create a wave of sorts the audience rode on, with their individual styles trading off as a quintessential element of what makes The Gloaming’s sound so distinct, blending an old and new world element that is equally enjoyable for any ear.

The magic is not so much in the melodies, the harmonies, the wilder moments of uplift, but rather in the stillness. In the space projected between the notes, as important if not more so. The crowd breathed with each phrase brought out by the band. A collective pulse set out by Dennis Cahill on guitar. He another component that transformed the swirling strings into percussive jigs that were irresistible to avoid physically falling into. My toes now point and flex at the thought of Ó Raghallaigh’s bare feet driving his bow onward, shoes abandoned under the chair.

The moments of joy encircled the air, such as during “Áthas,” a poem written by the late Irish poet Liam Ó Muirthile and arranged by Ó Lionáird. In a preamble before beginning, he loosely translates some of text, opening the listeners to further involvement in the piece:

“Walking on I compose in my head

Lines and strange phrases

Which run with me

The beat of the stick

With the rhythm of my feet”

The added white noise of the audience’s participatory enthrallment created a community that was felt throughout the theater. While each musician’s knees were bobbing and feet were tapping on stage, muted claps bounced off the walls. I could hear the swish of someone’s khaki pantlegs rubbing with excitement, surely wanting to jump up out of their seat. During the most spirited upturns in songs, many people would clap and woo along. It was an intimacy one would imagine in a pub paired with the enormous vivacity of the music, an unmatched experience.

It is difficult to put into words the passion, the closeness, the educational journey, and the utter amazement of experiencing The Gloaming, but somehow Kristy Edmunds did find a way.

“We should be brought to our knees. We should be moved to the greatest sublime beauty. We should also feel the wit and humor and political wryness of things. But really what it is, is the practice of the ethic of optimism.”

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