Ireland’s Saw Doctors returned to Cleveland last night for another two-plus hour set of roots-rock that heated up the House of Blues crowd even as temps dipped into the upper 20’s and snow started falling again.
If the quintet couldn’t bring Spring weather with ‘em, they brought a catalog of tunes dating back to early albums like All the Way From Tuam and If This is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back—all delivered with the band’s signature brand of bonhomie. After a quarter-century in the biz, The Saw Doctors no longer fret over what songs to include in their set lists, but rather which to leave out.
The March 21st show focused on the guys’ stronger material from the ‘90s and 2010’s, skipping over mid-career discs The Cure and Villains.
The band kicked off with up-tempo ballad “Exhilarating Sadness” and found their groove on “Tommy K,” their salute to Ireland’s maverick disc jockey from the ‘70s. They’d pay tribute to another Irish hero—President Michael Higgins—later in the set with “Michael D. Rockin’ the Dail.”
Founding members Davy Carton and Leo Moran both played guitars, with Carton alternating between electrics and acoustics and Moran favoring his big, beautiful Gretsch White Falcon. Carton is the Doctors’ default vocalist—but Leo took front and center on “Galway and Mayo,” a nostalgic look back at simpler times when “hardly anyone had a telly” and “heaven was a game of baseball.” The song’s evolved into a solid rocker since its folk-pop debut on 1998’s Songs from Sun Street.
Moran also sang lead on romantic ballad “Clare Island,” with a big assist from the audience—who’d warmed their pipes earlier on staple sing-alongs (and Doctors perennial concert favorites) “N-17” and “Green and Red of Mayo.” Keyboardist Kevin Duffy provided backups throughout the evening, adding depth to Carton’s poetic verses and fist-pumping refrains. When he wasn’t tickling keys on his Hammond XK-2, Duffy strapped on an accordion, which gave him freedom to come visit the fans down front.
Anthony Thistlethwaite thumped a Gibson bass guitar on “Nevermind the Strangers” and “I”ll Be on My Way.” He even turned in a saxophone lead, harkening to his days as a brass man with The Waterboys.
The group’s newest member, Rickie O’Neill, brought youthful energy and big rock flair to the drums, keeping time on “You Got Me on the Run” and a cover of Petula Clark classic “Downtown,” which highlights the band’s latest Best Of set, 25:25, and features the ‘60s songbird.
“Takin’ the Train” and “Hazard” hailed from the group’s last studio effort, The Further Adventures of the Saw Doctors. “Macnas Parade,” “Bless Me Father,” and “That’s What She Said” dipped father into their canon, spinning tales of Catholic schoolboy lust and cheeky bar-hopping humor. We wouldn’t have minded hearing backtrack “The Winter is Long,” given Cleveland protracted cold season, but the ever-optimistic Doctors indulged in an “Indian Summer.”
“Only One Girl” wasn’t originally on the agenda, but the heart-harmer eeked into the set after Moran entertained a fan’s request to ask his companion to prom. The gesture will leave a lasting impression on St. Edward High School senior Ronan Forrestal, whose lady friend Lilly said “yes.”
“Proms always remind me of that big dance in Back to the Future,” joked Leo, who made the proposal on Ronan’s behalf.
The evening pushed into the midnight hour with lump-in-the-throat love song “Red Cortina,” rousing “Joyce Country Ceili Band,” and Ireland’s biggest hit single ever—“I Useta Love Her.” The show wrapped, appropriately enough, with a bouncy “Hay Wrap,” with Moran again calling for someone to “get that wasp off my sandwich!”
Galway indie-rockers So Cow opened the concert with a half hour of power pop sampling from its decade-long career. Fronted by singer-guitarist Brian Kelly, the trio faithfully recreated jangle-pop from the ‘60s (“I Hardly Know You”) and fuzz rock from the ‘90s (“Barry Richardson,” “Rory McIlroy”). Apart from his strident guitar work, Kelly’s a clever wordsmith and energetic showman who eschews cliché and more obvious sentiments in favor of unusual turns-of-phrase and leftfield lyrics. Nobody saw So Cow’s cover of The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody,” for example—but the remodeled tune went over remarkably well.
Kelly called for a gentleman down front to post the iPod footage he’d taken online somewhere: “My brother doesn’t believe I’m here doing this,” he quipped.
Bassist John White bounded onstage in a Mexican wrestling mask. Drummer Pete O’Shea kept time on HOB’s house drum kit, somehow managing to not crack up over his colleague’s antics.
Kelly’s played Cleveland several times over the last five years. His newest incarnation of the live three-piece has a split LP out now on Inflated Records called Out of Season.
So Cow didn’t stay for The Saw Doctor’s entire set; they had another show booked at The Happy Dog at 11:00pm. Now that’s rock and roll—and no, Kelly doesn’t want his old job back.