Brad Paisley @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin 19 August 2011

Brad Paisley onstage with Darius Rucker (inset) using a local beverage bottle to good advantage.

If there was ever any doubt that a healthy market for Nashville’s country music existed in Dublin it would have been blasted out of existence Friday night. It was a first come, first served downstairs-standing-up gig and the crowd was queuing neatly for 150 metres down Dame Street at twenty past five. And the doors didn’t open until 7.

I can’t say much about the Darius Rucker gig as I was stuck backstage for most of it, but from what I did hear he was in amazing voice, had a tight band – he’s far too experienced for anything else – sang some of his hits and the crowd loved his show. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy – he’s a sweetheart with a fabulous voice and is a great songwriter who loves what he does.

Brad Paisley was instantly at home with the crowd and if they loved Darius Rucker, they adored Brad, singing along with every word of every song. He played for roughly 2 hours with two acoustic solo numbers to break up the almost overwhelming power and sound of the band. The solo numbers were Whiskey Lullaby and When I get Where I’m Going To and showcased his acoustic playing and voice.  Brad is known for his amazing guitar playing and his reputation was thoroughly burnished, not tarnished by the gig. It’s true: he is a spectacular guitarist and in regard to his other talents, songwriting and singing he fully deserves his CMA Entertainer of the Year title. The band are versatile and very, very good, particularly Kendal Marcy on keyboards and banjo and the flamboyant Ben Sesar on drums, although to be fair, the steel player (Randle Currie) sounded great when we heard him, but the sound varied from place to place.

Working on a Tan was dedicated to a sun-starved Ireland – and we need it! Other highlights were  This is Country Music, title track to Paisley’s most recent album, Celebrity , I’m Still a Guy, I’m Gonna Miss Her (aka The Fishing Song), and the night’s climax was a full stage – crew and Darius Rucker included – rave up of Alcohol.

Enterprising promoters take note: the audience is there, even in these parlous economic times we have the time and the money for good music – just bring it in and we’ll be there.

Review by Sandy Harsch. Photography by Ronnie Norton


Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot Vicar St. Dublin 27th July 2011

Still walking the walk, Brian Setzer joins his upright bassist and drummer onstage in his stylish rockabilly threads and they proceed to rock the town with a set of uptempo workouts that see cohorts Noah Levy on drums and Johhny Hatton provide a solid foundation for Setzer to display his undoubted prowess as a guitarist of the highest calibre of Gretch rockin' twang. Songs for that segment of the show included '49 Mercury Blues, Drive Like Lightening, Crash Like Thunder and This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof. He then slowed things down with Slow Down. They band were also joined by pianist and acoustic guitarist Kevin McKendree who played some fine Jerry Lee style keyboard skills. Setzer understanding of pacing allowed things to build in an organic, if fairly frantic pace. He did a nice segue into a countryish Folsom Prison Blues early into the set. It should also be noted that Setzer is a strong vocalist able to handle the different tempos and styles with ease. The initial rhythm section then left the stage to be replaced by original Stray Cat drummer, singer and all round showman Slim Jim Phantom and a second double bassist Chris D'Rozario. Phantom's kit was a stripped down snare and cymbals set up. The bass drum providing a platform for Slim Jim to stand on rather than being used as an actual rhythm instrument. None the less this partial Stray Cats reunion was much loved by fans and Phantom and Setzer seemed to enjoy playing off each other. Old favourites were played including the theme song Stray Cat Strut. Phantom enthusiastic playing saw the destruction of one snare skin along the way. Johnny Hatton then rejoined the stage and the two double bassist began a slap string showdown and some gymnastic displays with the instruments which then led to Setzer joining them with his own silver sprayed double bass and the trio then worked together in harmony and competition. The Rockabilly Riot tour undoubtably is as much a spectacle of skill and showmanship as it is pure rockabilly. But that doesn't detract from the general audience enjoyment who were obviously delighted to see these guys up on stage together. An extended Fishnet Stockings was soon followed by an encore which included all band members on stage for a fitting. They did and we smiled.


Double Feature. John Mellencamp @ Grand Canal Theatre 28 June 2011

The show started early with Kurt and Ian Markus' gritty and attractive documentary It's About You, shot in hand-held style on grainy Super 8mm film it follows Mellencamp around the States, touring and recording his last album with T-Bone Burnett. It's insightful and visually arresting but perhaps a little long for some of the audience whose attention drifted towards the bar. The show itself, a 22 song set, which ran for almost two hours opened with the sentient voice of Johnny Cash before the curtains opened to reveal three guitarists with electric guitars and a drummer playing a stripped down kit of snare and standing tom and an acoustic bass guitar. The played with a concise power against a theatre backdrop of ancient ruins, which seemed somehow appropriate given that Mellencamp music draws from a deep well of old American music forms.

Mellencamp played a choice of songs that came from various points in his career. He started with Authority Song and closed with R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. Though he told the audience that he "didn't like to look back" he included a fair number of his better known career songs alongside some more recent songs. He did make the point that he had been asked by a fan on the Dublin's street to play Cherry Bomb and said that while he doesn't normally "do requests" this request was asked for so sincerely that he played it solo acoustically. He open with the full band which had expanded, after a couple of songs, to include violinist Miriam Sturm as well as keyboards and accordion player Troye Kinnett. They are all musicians who have played with Mellencamp previously, some are long time veterans like guitarists Mike Wanchic and Andy York who, with the dynamic rhythm section of John Gunnell and Dane Clark, are the perfect band to deliver Mellencamp's memorable songs in a cohesive, powerful set.

It was nine songs in before Mellencamp spoke to the audience. He thanked us for coming and then played an acoustic set that included Save Some Time To Dream which he said was some advice his father had given him. He also remarked about the young dangerous looking young men he saw in his travels but that the grey haired person sitting beside was probably a more dangerous prospect. At 60 Mellencamp is still looks pretty dangerous himself and he gives a sterling performance which is much appreciated by the very supportive audience, most of whom would undoubtably be long time fans judging from the response.

Mellencamp is very much his own man and records and plays his music exactly the way he wants too. He balances the acoustic songs, which often started solo then had the accordion and violin join him, which added to the power of the subtly of those song as against the full force rocking roots anthems. He included favourites Jack And Diane, Paper In Fire, Pink Houses, Walk Tall and Small Town. Songs that sit seamlessly alongside more recent songs like The West End, No One Cares About Me and  , a song that he told us was a true story about a night out with his son that ended with a fight. 

Though some still regard Mellencamp as standing in Bruce Springsteen's shadow, this night proved that Mellencamp is very much his own man with the charisma, songs, voice and band to deliver a memorable live experience that satisfied on many levels.


Review by Stephen Rapid, Photography of off-screen image and live photograph by Karl Tsigdinos


Emmylou Harris @ The Grand Canal Theatre - 28 May

Emmylou Harris is one of those artists. She came to my attention first as a backing vocalist years ago & then through her more recent solo work, namely the stunning Wrecking Ball record produced by atmospheric master Danny Lanois.

She has guested on what must now be over hundreds of records, many of those classics. Her ethereal, textured & unique backing vocals, I would often say, make a track. Her vocal passion, depth & originality cannot be matched - on record. She has worked with artists ranging from Patty Griffin, to Neil Young, to Daniel Lanois, to Midnight Oil to Gram Parsons. A few years back she made a stunning record with Mark Knopfler which many including myself, hold in high regard. For those achievements alone & as a backing artist she is rightly considered a legend in the country music scene.

This was the first time I had seen Harris live & I was hugely excited.

Harris walked on stage to an almighty cheer from the crowd. Despite this warmth she started off in shaky fashion. Perhaps it was the first show of the tour? It doesn't seem so. She didn't do credit to her well known recorded version (or Gillian Welch's original version) of Orphan Girl. Part of her vocal charm is her textured & liberal approach to melody but really this was not good vocal form. Her voice felt ropey & to anyone with even a hint of a trained musical ear, she was clearly not close to making many of the higher & lower notes.

As things moved on, Harris clearly felt more comfortable onstage singing her own songs from track 3 onwards. Her band were putting in a fine performance but they lacked a leader despite a stunning effort from her drummer who played with a lovely feel & solid metronomic attention to tempo. Perhaps they were under-rehearsed?

Things stooped a little lower when she admitted to the audience that her fret marker stickers on her guitar neck were missing as she'd had to change guitars due to technical difficulties. This meant she didn't know how to play the upcoming tune & left a very difficult silence for a number of minutes until she worked through the tune onstage prior to performing it. Always a vibe killer.

Later in the show she hit something of a stride especially with some of the newer songs she's written. Performing her own finely crafted tunes was indeed her strength on this night. As a writer she started late in her career but it's obvious a large part of her talent lies in writing & adding that extra sparkle to other artist's performances. There's something to be said for some artists having either a live or a studio voice.

I'd say that some are born to be lead singers & others are born to remain a support to those lead singers. Unfortunately to my mind Harris belongs in the latter category & although the entire crowd seemed to go wild for the performance, the show lacked direction & vibe.

The show very clearly tapped into the nostalgia revival going on these days with the likes of reunion tours & 3rd time reissues of classic records judging by the age group of the audience in attendance.

It's worth saying that the majority of the audience seemed to go wild for the show calling for an encore from Harris & her band The Red Dirt Boys. Unfortunately for this reviewer I seem to have been at a different gig from the one the audience around me were attending.

I will perhaps be shot down for writing an honest review of this show, but Emmylou, we expected better. I'm really grateful to have seen this legend in concert but for me I'll always enjoy her tweaked & produced records & backing vocal appearances far more than seeing her in concert as a lead artist.

I'd say her new record with some class production will be a stunner though. 'Hard Bargain' (produced by the wonderfully talented Jay Joyce) is available now from Harris' Official Website & you can listen to the album for free on Groove Shark here (listening to selections now it sounds pretty special).     

Review by James Cooper.

Photo by Ronnie Norton.


The Secret Sister @ Academy 2 - Wednesday 18th May

Greeting the audience with a cheery "how is everybody" the Secret Sisters charmed the small but enthusiastic audience. This suggests that sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers may not be such a secret for too much longer. Both Sisters play rudimentary guitar, though Lydia tells us that her sister is better at it (and Lydia agreed) and that she has never really got betteras a guitarist. But the truth their playing works in context and really it's their voices that everyone is here to hear. Both sing lead on different songs with Laura generally singing lead on the self-composed songs. They also included several other songs from their self-titled debut album including Why Baby Why and the traditional Do You Love An Apple. Noting the comparison that has been made between themselves and the Everly Brothers the delivered a striking Devoted To You, which included two fluffed lines from Lydia much to the amusement of Laura. But was was apparent with this song and throughout the evening was the striking harmonies the sisters bring to their performance. That and a natural exuberance which is evident in the stories and general observations that Laura gives between the songs. These included the fact that European hotel rooms are much smaller that ones in the U.S. and therefore leads to the pair having small tantrums, something that she reiterated a number of times. That, in it's own way adds the the openness and intimacy of the evening. That they had sung in church was reflected by the inclusion of several gospel songs including their self composed River Jordan. Laura said they were still finding their way as they were "new to being artists". They paid homage to artists they had grown up listening to with versions of Patsy Cline's Leaving On Your Mind which Lydia sang solo. Laura cracking that sister Lydia would be "a big country star" when they broke up. They told us that they were so proud that Hank Williams Sr. was from their home state of Alabama and then sang a spirited Your Cheatin' Heart. Laura also told us that she had moved to Tennessee when she was young and that "a boy broke my heart when I was there" this was the reason she had written Tennessee Me. This led to her revealing that they were really looking forward to flying home the next day to see their parents and that they were both "Daddy's girls". Other tales including touring with Willie Nelson but staying off his bus. They brought support act Simon Lynge onstage for an excellent three voice version of Dream Lover. There is a rawness to their performance that is endearing and infectious and it remains to be seen if that will be lost once they become veterans of the industry. It can be hoped that they stay this way for as long as possible for they are a breath of fresh air in an over-produced musical world. The closed with an acapella rendition of You Belong To Me that was stunning and a final testament to their talent and undoubted charm.

Review by Steve Rapid, photograph by Ronnie Norton