Ireland has a strange, almost Lynchian relationship with country music. There are the Daniel O’Donnell/Nathan Carter/Garth Brooks die-hards, of course. This cohort is usually composed of people who grew up on westerns of the ’60s and ’70s, and came of age to the bizarre strings of the “Country and Irish” genre of music proliferated by the showband era. But interestingly there’s also a large chunk of millennials who were impacted (quite tragically) by Garth Brooks’ sold-out Croke Park concerts in the ’90s, and subsequently found themselves in some strange time-warp where youth clubs were teaching line dancing and the price of denim went through the ceiling. This definitely happened, despite how emphatically my 40-year-old brother denies practicing steps in the kitchen in his early-teen years. I have his cowboy hat stashed away as kompromat. As a result, here we are in 2022, on the far side of “you know what”, and CMAT has come barrelling out of the internet, and onto the stage, where she belongs. Cowboy hat in tow.
It’s truly impressive to watch the slow coup she has pulled off over the past two years. Drawing fans from across the musical spectrum, as well as appealing to those lapsed Irish country music fans of yore. By the time she took to the stage last night, the queue to get into Cyprus Avenue still stretched three-quarters of the way down Caroline Street. A testament to both her massive popularity and the chilled nature of the audience she attracts to her shows.
The set was heavily centered around her debut album If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, but also featured a few iconic tracks from her pandemic-era back catalog. Opening with ‘Nashville’, the new-frontier inspired first track from the album, the band were surprised to hear the audience singing along. “That song came out about ten minutes ago, and we weren’t expecting people to sing along when we opened with it,” she remarked after the song’s conclusion. “But I wouldn’t expect anything less from the real capital”. Like any great western hero, she had already deftly rallied everybody in the saloon to join her cause.
The night rolled joyously through old favourites and new ditties. In addition to ‘Nashville’, her new track ‘No More Virgos’ was another highlight freshly added to her repertoire. The disco-inspired manifesto against dating earth signs had the room heaving and the crowd roaring. Classic tracks ‘Another Day (KFC)’ and ‘Rodney’ swung the crowd into the latter half of her set, and as the lights came up and the “one more tune” chants began to ring around the venue, I got my first proper look at the crowd. Grey-haired men stood shoulder to shoulder with 20 something-year-old women in neon pink cowboy hats, screaming in unison for an encore. Several people I spoke to afterward had come with one or both of their parents. CMAT, the great generational unifier, returned to the stage to serenade us, alone on an out-of-tune banjo, with a beautiful rendition of her album’s penultimate track ‘Geography Teacher’. She was finally joined by the full band to close out the evening with her masterclass in genre songwriting ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy Baby’, before riding off into the sunset.
CMAT will return to Cork to save the day next December when she plays her biggest Cork gig to date at the iconic Live At St. Luke’s. If anybody needs the loan of a cowboy hat for it, I know a guy… Mike Ryan.
Photos by Celeste Burdon