This small back street venue in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter geographically shifted several times tonight from a gospel hall in the US deep south, to the Australian outback, a chilled-out club in west Africa to a seisún in Co Kerry.
In between Liam Ó Maonlaí managed to pound out some Celtic soul, down and dirty blues, a couple of ballads, tell a few stories… oh yes and play some Mozart as well.
He is a shamanic figure who seems to almost go into a trance, particularly when playing the bodhrán and tin whistle.
The first half of his set was a bit hit and miss, where he stayed put behind his piano only standing up to remove his shoes and socks after the first song. The highlight was a nifty little number played on the didgeridoo.
However, the second half moved swiftly into a different league as Ó Maonlaí growled a low, throaty bass note and delivered a sean nós-style song as Gaeilge.
From then on he performed in a dazzling display of different style, changing instrument with each song as he displayed his skills on whistle, accordion, bodhrán, mbira (an African thumb piano), as well as guitar and piano.
While on guitar he played a west African-style song, which sounded like a cover of the late Malian Ali Farka Touré, and he used the mbira to back himself while singing a song in Irish.
As well as being a multi-instrumentalist he has a great vocal range, often using his voice as another intstrument. Ranging from gravelly blues, to shrill soul (the hallmark of his Hothouse Flowers persona), to spine tingling sean nós he took his audience into Ó Maonlaí world, which is never a dull place, while the journey there can often take some strange twists.
This is the second time I’ve seen him play in the Black Box. You can read my review of the earlier gig here.