Always Great: the Chieftains at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
The Irish toast says "May the sound of happy music, And the lilt of Irish laughter, fill your heart with gladness, that stays forever after." That toast was fulfilled and then some at the Performing Arts Center on Friday night as the venerable, Irish band the Chieftains kept up their string of excellent concerts in the hall. Never ones to rest on their laurels or coast along on clichés the young fellas added a twist here and a dance there to freshen and spice the old tunes, some two hundred years old but shining still. You could say the same about the original four members, in their forty-third year: Sean Keane, Matt Molloy, Kevin Coneff and the tireless energizer Paddy Moloney. The houseful of die-hard Chieftains fans would have been content to hear the gems from their first eight albums but the band just keeps expanding their horizons and now calls the globe its home.
Brought along to knock the bar up a notch or two were the fabulous Pilatzke brothers, Jon and Nathan who when setting tap shoe to stage caused excitement to flow like crackling electricity. Also the intense and talented Spanish gaita (pipes) player from Galicia, Carlos Nunez with his brothers Xurxo and Pancho tossed some Spanish soul into the heady musical mix. New Chieftain harpist Triona Marshall had some huge shoes to fill, replacing original member Derek Bell but in her understated but powerful way did splendidly. Add master Irish dancers Cara Butler and Danny Golden and even Scottish piper Glen Thompson and you have one fine show from start to finish. The festivities started, as promised, with "Brian Baru's March" that started simply, then reached a fine and strong brew, reminding al l of the reason why the Chieftains have reigned supreme for these four decades. Kevin Coneff sang "the Flower of Sweet Strabane" which lead into "Shady Grove." Here, the Pilatzkes stirred the audience with the first of just many demonstrations of their unique Canadian step dance. Jon Pilatzke pulled yeoman's duty, playing fiddle and jumping to his young feet to join brother Nathan and amaze the roaring crowd. When Cara Butler and the King of Dance Danny Golden strutted their stuff too it almost made you forget the music but only for a moment.
It wasn't all adrenaline; there were some poignant moments too, as when Paddy Moloney played the achingly beautiful "Derek's Tune" in tribute to the late and great harpist of the band. Moreover, the other old gents showed that they are much more than guys in a band when they took on solos that soared. Sean Keane did a trio including "O'Farrel's Welcome to Limerick," "Kiss the Maid," and "Steam Packet" that clearly showed why he was voted instrumentalist of the year in his native land. Triona Marshall lived up to the high Bell-standards on the exquisite "O'Carolan" and the power-packed Carlos Nunez could barely contain his enthusiasm through an astounding "Concerto de Aranjuez" and "Maneo" on his pipes and whistle. Brothers Pancho on bouzouki and Xurxo on drums turned the band into "El Chieftains" for this sweet set. The fun continued on towards the two hour mark with Kevin doing a fine job on "Mo Ghile Mear" and Matt Molloy enchanting the house with a trio of flute gems including one drawn from Irish selkie mythology and "Molly Ahern," and Colonel Frazier." "The Stone" was a delightful dance number with both Pilatzke brothers and the gam-erous Cara Butler playing off the two suitors. The Nunez family followed with "Amanecer" and "Guadelupe" as hall temperatures rose to a feel-good temperature. The finales were fun and full of great dancing: the Pilatzkes just defied the limits of the human anatomy, the Scottish bagpiper Glen Thompson showed and piped most beautifully and the Chieftains turned each band member loose on an extended "Mrs. McCloud's Reel" and encores of "Mountain Road," "Banshee," and "Sligo Maid." They are amazing, they are tireless, they are ever-flowing fountains of good cheer and music, they are the Chieftains.