Concert review and set list: Black 47 (with St. Louis Irish Arts) celebrates the Celtic Festival at Touhill Performing Arts Center, Saturday, November 3
The St. Louis Irish Arts dance troupe first entertained the seated crowd, who clapped along and marveled at the dancers clad in colorful and traditional Irish dress. Under the direction of Limerick native Helen Gannon, the St. Louis Irish Arts School, located in Maplewood, Mo., trains Irish musicians and dancers. Later on, the impressive troupe returned to perform with Black 47, to a rousing instrumental.
Black 47 lead singer and guitarist Larry Kirwan appeared on stage along with his five-piece band. The crowd applauded as the group slipped into “Green Suede Shoes.” The popular song blended traditional Irish sounds with a bombastic ’80s-era Clash feel complete with rapid-fire lyrics and a twist on Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes.” As Joseph Mulvanerty’s uilleann pipes scaled like a thrush up and down the musical ladder, Black 47 conjured the green hills and fields of Ireland.
“The Big Fellah,” from 1994′s “Home of the Brave,” written from the viewpoint of an Irish Republican soldier, detailed Michael Collins’ political work, moving from the GPO to his death at Béal na Bláth. After “The Big Fellah” the St. Louis Irish Arts returned with a rousing session of dance over a spectacular jam by Black 47. Kirwan’s hoots and “heys” as the music turned injected nice jumpstarts to each new phrase.
Drummer Thomas Hamlin cranked into a cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as Kirwan asked the audience if they were ready for some Irish reggae. I had never heard of such a thing, but Black 47 made the cultural mash-up feel completely natural, showing the audience that the two disparate genres are not that different at all. Mulvanerty’s uilleann pipes belted the melody as trombonist Fred Parcells offered sweet accents to the verse. The cover transitioned smoothly into “Desperate,” which featured all the major key changes of “Three Little Birds,” but with Kirwan’s brilliantly nuanced love-wan lyrics.
Black 47 shaded contemplative on “One Starry Night,” concerning itself with a tinker woman (Irish slang for traveler) named Molly. “Black 47″ featured an uilleann opening which would put a showboating, shredding guitarist to shame.
During “Rockin’ the Bronx” the audience danced in front of the stage and beckoned others to join. Toward the middle of the song, Kirwan exited a moment as Joe Burcaw unleashed a bass solo full of slaps and excellent hammer-ons.
Kirwan returned for “Different Drummer,” a song about the sexual exploits of a young Irishman new to America. The track ended on the notion that the protagonist would be better off in New York than, say, California or Missouri — the girls in these places are just too fast. “Fire Or Freedom” was a rollicking surprise with a swath of Gaelic built into the firmament of the song’s final chorus. “James Connolly,” an anthemic tribute to the Socialist union leader, showcased the band’s working class sympathies upon a bed of Geoffrey Blythe’s E Street Blues-influenced tenor saxophone.
“Izzy’s Irish Rose,” chronicled the tale of a Jewish tailor in love with an Irish lass. The song made the audience bob — especially as it slipped into a section of Jewish wedding music, an aspect of Black 47′s versatility to indulge in satisfying cultural cross-play and pollination.
Black 47 closed their set with their hit “Funky Céilí,” about an Irishman who gets his lover pregnant, which enrages her father, so the man must flee to America, where, as Kirwan sang, “the wild women are waiting for me.”
Returning for a two-song encore, Black 47 offered “40 Shades of Blue,” which played like a tongue-in-cheek version of “Finnegan’s Wake,” replete with solely verbal, whispered parts, and “Maria’s Wedding,” where Kirwan apologized for wrecking a poor woman’s wedding.
After the show, Black 47 joined the audience for a round of Irish cuisine and drinks (provided by Llywelyn’s Pub), catching up with friends old and new, signing autographs and taking pictures, capping off a profoundly cultured and playful evening.
Green Suede Shoes
The Big Fellah
Three Little Birds (Bob Marley Cover)
One Starry Night
Rockin’ the Bronx
Fire of Freedom
Izzy’s Irish Rose
40 Shades of Blue