Remember a little movie from the late 90s called Titanic? Remember the dancing scene in third class with Jack and Rose spinning around the table? Ladies and gentlemen, last Saturday at the State Theater, that scene’s own traditional Celtic band: Gaelic Storm. The band’s most recent album, Matching Sweaters, is the their twelfth, released in July 2015; it peaked at 60 on Billboard 200 the following month. As a side note, Storm’s albums tend to have very playful, colorful titles: Chicken Boxer (2012), Cabbage (2010) and Herding Cats (1999), on which the famous track from Titanic appears.
I only became a fan of Storm recently, when I was perusing different songs from movie soundtracks, being the usual film critic that I am. When I came across ‘Titanic Set’ or ‘An Irish Party in Third Class,’ I was hooked immediately. Gaelic Storm’s powerful instrumentation coupled with their irresistible peppiness and upbeat tone makes them a quick sell for anyone who is a fan of traditional Irish music or of folk music in the broader sense. Personally, as a lover of both movie scores and classical, folk and alternative music, Storm lands squarely in my personal taste in music. When I heard they’d be playing the State Theatre this semester, I said yep, count me in.
Aside from never having covered a concert in Ithaca, I had never attended a concert at the State Theater before Saturday either, and what a lovely venue it was. It reminded me of one of the old-time movie palaces that decorate Los Angeles, with its opulent inner structure and rows upon rows of velvet seats. It truly is a gorgeous establishment.
Then out came the performers, who as it turned out, not only had a great sense of music, but a great sense of humor as well. Frontman Patrick Murphy, notable instantly for his stainless Irish brogue, told the crowd they were going to perform the show backwards, beginning with the number they usually close with. They performed one song, introducing it as their grand finale, and then all five band members promptly walked off stage. Buoyed by the crowd’s applause and calls for an ‘encore’ they walked back on to perform the rest of the show. We had thus learned it was to be a very interactive type of performance. Some bands like to keep an invisible wall between themselves and the audience — Gaelic Storm was big on audience participation, and we were going to have to work for our entertainment, almost as hard as them. At numerous points, they would turn the vocals and beat over to the house, with Murphy and violinist Kiana Weber (who can fiddle like nobody’s business) guiding us to keep the beat.
Each of the musicians had a distinctive talent. Weber, the band’s only female member, stole the spotlight at many different points. She launched into many bravado fiddle solos and a sort of pseudo-competition as it were with the band’s Canadian member Peter Purvis, who played the bagpipes as virtuosically as any Scotsman before him. The two of them would command center stage, each leaning forward on their instrument, channeling a rush and a blast of pure adrenaline through the pipes and the strings. On the drums the massively talented Ryan Lacey kept the beat cruising and jolting, Brit Steve Twigger contributed stellar guitar riffs and sang lead vocals along with Murphy. Occasionally, Murphy would pick up a Bob Dylan-esque accordion-piano-harmonica and make it sing. Others instruments used onstage included spoons, tambourine, mandolin and bodhrán.
Not one of the band’s songs carried a somber tune. This was purposeful, as Murphy
at one point explained. “We’ve all lost somebody close to us,” he said, “and rather than write a sad song, we thought we’d write a song celebrating the life of that person and how lucky we were to even get to spend a little bit of time with them at all.” Their number celebrating the good times shared with a lost friend struck a deliriously high chord, but truthfully, the whole concert was like that. There was good cheer in the air throughout — a song performed about a man spending hours in the pub, needing only one more pint before rushing home with his live escargot to his scourge wife was flat-out hilarious. “What’s your excuse?!” demands his wife, “You’re three hours late!” “Come on, lads, just a little further!” yells the man to the snails, crawling along the floor.
Another highlight was a moment of audience participation, with people in the house doing their best wild dancing donkey impression. The best were spotted by Murphy and brought on stage. Sitting towards the back of the upper balcony, I shared my row of three seats with a lovely couple from Greene, New York. The husband suggested to his wife that she run across the balcony doing the dance, and she’d be sure to get noticed. Sure enough, she was called up on stage, much to her husband’s and my elation. A variety of prizes were doled out to five audience members — t-shirts, scarves, and the drummer’s half eaten banana.
Gaelic Storm brought their unique sense of humor, their musical bravura and their infectious love for performance to the party on Saturday night. It was one of the most enjoyable and lighthearted concerts I’ve ever attended. If shows at the State Theater are all this much fun, we should all make a point of hitting the place up more often.