Gaelic Storm typically blows through the North Coast twice a year, but the party-folk band's stop at House of Blues Cleveland on Saturday, February 23, 2013 was extra-special because it marked the Ohio debut for the party folk band’s newest member.
Violinist Kiana June Weber (ex-Barrage, Daughters of Newgrass) joined the group in late 2012. The Michigan native replaces fiddler Jesse Burns, who left amicably to spend time with her new family.
Weber brought all the four-string pyrotechnics demanded by Gaelic Storm’s giddy-up blend of traditional, bluegrass, and pop. And, like her predecessor, she’s as easy on the eyes as the ears.
One gets the impression the boys in the band must high-five each another whenever they add another lovely lady to their ranks.
Founded by Irishman Patrick Murphy and Englishman Steve Twigger in the late 1990s, Gaelic Storm appeared as the steerage section folk band in the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster Titanic. A string of popular CDs followed—including Herding Cats and Tree—showcased the band’s knack for meshing Celtic instrumentation with topical (and often humorous) lyrics. The 2003 compilation Special Reserve collected many of the old “hits” for newcomers seduced by the group’s raucous concerts, but they quintet has been recording regularly ever since. Last year’s Chicken Boxer landed at #1 on the Billboard World Album Chart, continuing a pattern started by 2008’s What’s the Rumpus? and continued by 2010’s Cabbage.
The multinational act also features renowned Canadian bagpiper Peter Purvis and American percussionist Ryan Lacey.
Twigger said the group had gotten an early start drinking this particular afternoon at Flanagan’s. The guitarist was probably referring to his Flannery’s on E. 4th and Prospect; it’s Gaelic Storm’s favorite local watering hole even if Twigger always botches the name.
Murphy is the group’s lead singer and rapscallion emcee, spinning yarns and ad-libbing between songs like “Pina Colada in a Pint Glass,” “I Miss My Home,” and the new “Irish Breakfast Day.” He’s a competent accordionist, bodhran beater, and harmonica huffer—not to mention a formidable spoon snapper (“Darcy’s Donkey”). Dapper-dressed Twigger usually plays foil to Murphy’s jocular funnyman, fielding vocals on the ballads and more heartfelt songs. Mop-headed Lacey eschews regular rock and roll drum kits for old-school instrumentation like surdo bass drums, djembe, and doubmek goblet-drums—all of which he slaps with his taped-up hands.
The Storm had the crowd slurping from its bonhomie-brimming pint glass from start to finish, mixing fresh material from Chicken Boxer and Cabbage (“Buzzards of Bourbon Street,” “Raised on Black and Tans,” “Green Eyes, Red Hair”) with familiar fodder from What’s the Rumpus? and Bring Yer Wellies. Dividing the Cleveland crowd in two, Murphy and Twigger each lead one half of the audience for part of the diametrical chorus (I brought the whiskey / He brought the light) of “Me and The Moon.”
“The Night I Punched Russell Crowe” never gets old, even if most in attendance have probably already heard Murphy’s amusing autobiographic preface about punching the unruly Australian actor while bartending in L.A.
Weber and Purvis occasionally squared off at center-stage for a bit of friendly fiddle vs. bagpipe dueling (“Dead Bird Hill”). Depending on the song, Purvis switched between Highland, Deger, and Uillean pipes, his lungs puffing as his fingers danced. But he also played tin whistle and (later) acoustic bass guitar. Some young ladies from the Burke School of Irish Dancing even got in on the action, high-stepping to the music in colorful costumes.
The group managed to shoehorn another Queen sing-along (featuring strains of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Bicycle Race”) between “Drink the Night Away” and “One More Day Above the Roses.” But no Gaelic Storm set is complete without a few bacchanalian tunes; the cider-centric “Johnny Tarr” went down smoothly once again (Murphy always threatens to not play it). “Alligator Arms” was an ode chastising a drinking buddy who’s always willing to reach for a free pint—but never for his wallet.
Murphy, Twigger, and Purvis left the stage during the encore to perform from atop HOB’s Jake bar (named for John Belushi’s character in The Blues Brothers)—but things threatened to get out of hand when an inebriated concertgoer hurled a drink at Murphy. The singer leapt down after fellow, but security staff quickly separated the two (and probably saved the drunkard a thorough, and not undeserved, beating). The incident prompted the band to forgo its usual practice of meeting fans in the lobby after the show; venue staff was keen on clearing the club when the music ended.
It was the only blight on an otherwise fun evening. And even then, the near-fisticuffs were exciting. Maybe there’s more truth to Murphy’s “Russell Crowe” story than we thought.