Every St. Patrick’s Day, the New York City streets and subways flood with green from onlookers of the 5th Avenue parade and thirsty pub-goers. With many options for a good St. Pat’s show or party from uptown to down and across to Brooklyn, one might almost need to throw a dart at a subway map to plan their night. But near Times Square a staple of the New York Irish scene returned to BB King’s to put on the perfect show for the occasion. For a second St. Patrick’s Day in a row, Larry Kirwan brought his songwriting and music from the retired Black 47 to the midtown blues club along with entertainment from some friends.
The evening started right on time with the dinner crowd being treated to a set from the Lia Fail Pipes and Drums from Mercer County, NJ performing traditional Irish and Scottish tunes including the 1916 Easter Uprising inspired “Foggy Dew.” Singer-songwriter Pat McGuire, a native New Yorker who calls Galway home, was greeted with admiration from the crowd starting to gather near the stage. As a pleasant surprise to many in the room, former Black 47 member Geoff Blythe joined McGuire for most of the set on soprano/tenor sax. The two complimented each other very well, especially on McGuire’s new songs. His set included a nod to his hometown, “A Song for New York,” in tribute to the Hurricane Sandy victims and storm cleanup efforts.
Returning to the BB King’s stage following McGuire’s set was Rory K, an independent hip-hop artist from the city, with a short set from a genre that was certainly the odd one out from the other acts yet fit in well. This year Rory drew more folks into his self-written lyrics with a high-energy and charismatic stage presence, debuting within the set a brand new song, “Talkin’ that Talk.”
With just the blink of an eye between sets, we arrived at the main act of the evening, Larry Kirwan & Friends. With the retirement of Black 47 two and a half years prior on the same stage, Kirwan’s band for the night returned from the previous St. Patrick’s Day show – Coty Cockrell (keys), Deni Bonet (violin), Rene Hart (double bass) and former Black 47 bandmate Thomas Hamlin (drums). The band had a tighter sound this time around giving a different take on the arrangements of the Black 47 songs in the set.
The band’s instrumentation was that of a typical rock setup but with upright bass, keys, and violin – a bit of a contrast to Black 47’s horn and uilleann pipe section, so the feel of the performance was inherently different from what longtime fans of the band had been used to. But that’s not to say anything about the quality of the show. The tunes in their different arrangement stood in their own right for a perfect show, with Cockrell’s keyboard lines and the pretty sounds of Bonet’s violin complimenting the original songrwriting well.
Concurrent with giving a performance with plenty of dancing to be had, Kirwan brought one of his former band’s recognizable elements to the show – politics in the form of song. A number of songs in the set came from Kirwan’s fervor for the history and stories of his home country of Ireland. Just like in the Black 47 days, these songs engaged a passionate audience, particularly the anthem to the Irish labor activist James Connolly. In more current affairs, Kirwan debuted a new single, “Second Coming Blues,” fueled by the recent election season and inspired by William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem similarly titled “The Second Coming.”
The show also featured a few surprises mixed throughout. The first was an appearance received with much applause by Cait O’Riordan (from The Pogues), who Kirwan introduced with a fun little story about when he attended that band’s first gig in NYC. Right after a rendition of The Pogues’ “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” the band paid tribute to David Bowie with a cover of “Heroes” to which Kirwan had penned an extra verse about Belfast. Rory K stepped back out on stage for a father-son moment during a section of “Fire of Freedom,” and perhaps one of the most exciting moments for long-time fans was the reunion of Kirwan and Black 47 co-founder Chris Byrne for “Walk All The Days.”
Before the night was over, the Kirwan treated BB King’s to one of Black 47’s MTV hits “Funky Ceili,” a song that for some intangible reason does not seem to get worn out with time, and the night closed with a large sing-along on the choruses of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.”
The evening was by no means low key but was rather a fun-filled, laid back way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and a show well worth checking out next time it rolls around on the calendar. Until then, Kirwan has some solo gigs/talks popping up which can be found between Facebook and the Black 47 website.
Livin’ In America, Bas In Eirann, Five Points, Camptown Races/Hard Times, Big Fellah, I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday (w/ Cait O’Riordan), Heroes (David Bowie), Fanatic Heart, Sean MacDiarmada, Redemption Song -> Fire of Freedom, Second Coming Blues, Walk All The Days (w/ Chris Byrne), James Connolly, Funky Ceili
Encore: Like A Rolling Stone