Larry Kirwan and Friends Mark St. Patrick’s Day With Comedy, Tradition, and Rock and Roll

A sea of green pooled around the sides of Fifth Avenue as the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade stepped off to much better weather than expected, bringing over 200,000 participants to the celebration, and for some marked a new era of inclusion in the festivities. As the crowds fizzled away along the cross streets near the end of the five hour parade to their quotidian ways, some green-clad merrymakers were staggering a bit early while others continued their St. Patrick’s celebrations into the evening.

With countless pubs and venues in an already bustling music town there were plenty of ways to carry on into the night. Right in the heart of Midtown at Times Square former Black 47 leader Larry Kirwan assembled an eclectic and energetic lineup of entertainment at the B.B. King Blues Club.

As the early settlers of the dinner crew finished up dessert, the Lia Fail Pipe Band out of Mercer County, NJ performed a short set of tunes including a rendition of “The Foggy Dew,” a folk song about the 1916 Easter Rising. This traditional intro to the night helped disposition the show before comedian and long time yellow cab driver John McDonagh took to the stage as emcee for the night. Cracking a few entertaining observational jokes about the character of NYC and about some national politics (to a few mixed reactions), McDonagh helped kick the energy up a bit in the crowd, almost like a comedian warming up the audience before a taping of The Tonight Show.

 

The first musical act of the night required the need to term the mix of entertainment as eclectic. Rising NYC hip-hop artist Rory K (Larry Kirwan’s son) celebrated the release of his second album Young Professionals that night performing a handful of songs. While the genre may have been a bit different from the rest of the night, Rory K’s struck some chords with the audience. His confidence in the lyrics and exuberant stage presence made for an entertaining set, and possibly a new sound for some folks at B.B. King’s. Rory K’s night wasn’t completely over after his set was finished as he stepped back out later on for a father-son moment providing some freestyling over a portion of “Fire of Freedom.”

Stepping back into a more traditional setting, Black 47 co-founder Chris Byrne was joined by Andrew Harkin and Brian Tracey as The Lost Tribe of Donegal. As resident NYC musicians performing regularly at Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook (Brooklyn), they brought a mix of toe-tapping jigs and reels along with original compositions and a cover of Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” which blended a traditional sound with some rhythmic elements of modern rock music.

Black 47 last took the stage at the same place in Nov. 2014 with many somber emotions from fans after their final cover of “Gloria / I Fought the Law” and as Larry Kirwan took to the stage with his freshly assembled band there was plenty of cheerful delight to counter that nearly 18-month dejection. The band was made up of Kirwan, Coty Cockrell (keys), Deni Bonet (violin), Rene Hart (double bass) and former Black 47 bandmate Thomas Hamlin (drums). Joining the band for a few songs was multi-instrumentalist and virtuoso David Amram.

While nothing can replace the dichotomy that was Black 47 the cohesion on stage was remarkable. It was interesting to hear a handful of Black 47 tunes played with different instrumentation, particularly the keys and violin taking up the space where horns and uillean pipes were before.

The set list was comprised of several staples from the Black 47 catalog and a few new post-Black 47 songs penned by Kirwan. Of these songs, “Floating” had first made its debut this past fall at one of Kirwan’s solo acoustic gigs but now presented as a ballad defined that night by the beautiful sounds of Hart’s violin. Another new song hit the stage honoring Seán Mac Diarmada; dedicated this in memory of Sandy Boyer, host of “Radio Free Eireann” on WBAI, who recently passed away.

With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising upon us, a theme of the night was the commemoration of the event. Though a minor element of the show, the songs “James Connolly” and “The Big Fellah” were part of the set in addition to the new song on Mac Diarmada. A Gaelic intro to “Big Fellah,” typically only sung on the studio version, brought the room down quiet before a distorted guitar cut through the silence. For “James Connolly,” an intuitive reaction from the crowd proves the power and legacy of the song.

Aside from the somewhat serious tone of the theme behind the show, there were many more fun moments throughout the night to bring back memories and excitement from the Black 47 years, particularly toward the end of the set with the booze-themed “40 Shades of Blue” and the former band’s MTV hit “Funky Ceili.”

Here’s looking forward to next St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan.

Setlist:

Livin’ In America, Bas in Eirann, Big Fellah, Walk All The Days (w/ Chris Byrne), Fanatic Heart, Five Points, Camptown Races, Hard Times, Redemption Song -> Fire of Freedom (w/ Rory K), Floating, Sean MacDiarmada, James Connolly, Izzy’s Irish Rose, 40 Shades of Blue, Funky Ceili

Encore: Like a Rolling Stone

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