Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Celtic Thunder

I did something last night that I have never done before. I went to a concert/show and did not have much of a clue what I would really be seeing.

My friend Bruce called me this weekend and asked if I would like to join him at the "Celtic Thunder" concert on Tuesday, seems he had an extra ticket. Being Irish/English/Welsh and basically lacking a drop of blood from Continental Europe, I certainly enjoy Celtic music and culture. That, combined with an empty calendar, made it a date.

"Celtic Thunder" is a 5 man (4 men and one boy of 15 actually) singing group from Ireland (well one Scotsman I am told) that have become a staple of Public TV. Their shows are frequently broadcast on PBS pledge drive weeks since they draw a big audience and thus big donations. It seems that is how Bruce got fabulous 2nd row floor tickets, he gave money to our local PBS station.

Frankly, the show was a bit disappointing. The main problem is that was short on two things you would think would be a part of such a show: Celtic and Thunder. Beginning with the misty atmosphere of whistles, pipes and drums accompanying a video of a hooded figure intoning a poem that would have made Edgar Allen Poe proud, the band and singers performed a couple of folk/Celtic tinged songs in Gaelic. Perhaps, I thought, I was going to hear a wonderful evening of real Irish/Celtic music.

Sadly, for me, they soon drifted into solo after solo ballad, some original, most sad and reflective, and some soupy standards such as "Desperado", only a bit of Celtic harmony here and there to spice it up. The group (and audience too) really came alive in the traditional Irish songs, especially when the extremely talented singers performed two songs (including the obligatory "Danny Boy") a capella in close harmony. Not swoopy barbershop style, but with real tight and clear harmonics that were breathtaking. Think "Chanicleer" to understand what I mean. The youngest member has an absolutely incredible, mature voice, but spent too much time being silly and relegated to singing 50's standards like "Young Love" and "Puppy Love".

The accompanying instrumentalists, a keyboard, string quartet, massive battery of drums, guitars and one fellow playing an array of traditional instruments, were often the highlight. The battle of the drums between the rack of percussion, a set of field drums and a bodhrán, the ancient Irish goatskin drum, was one of the highlights as was the lively suite of jigs used to close the show.

Don't get me wrong, "Celtic Thunder" is an extremely entertaining and talented group; they obviously enjoy what they do. Maybe if I had been more familiar with them, I would have left feeling a bit less underwhelmed. Instead of "Celtic Thunder", the show rumbled with sprinkles of Irish pop.

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