The Chieftains February 21, 2010
By Glen Creason
I have gone past double figures in hearing the great Chieftains play at the Performing Arts Center, a lucky thirteen to be exact and have never seen a similar show twice. I have to believe it is the ultimate test of musical artists to continue to excel and entertain even when crowds know you like family. The genius of this evergreen band is that they never sit still and are always looking forward, never staying put where they might form a rut. Instead, each visit brings clean new sounds, great artists that they introduce or established greats who might join in the loosely arranged musical merriment. Still, the Sunday afternoon show they offered this visit was just something extra special, something so warm and wonderful and full of surprises that it reached heights not achievable for most groups. With great success that has continued unabated for almost fifty years the group can afford to work with the very best and thanks to the guidance of the legendary Paddy Maloney they make each show beyond memorable. You would not expect an Irish band lead by a man from Dublin to perform Mexican music but this show blended the traditions perfectly, juxtaposing the sounds in a way that elevated each song.
The proceedings before a packed house began, appropriately with the sweet sound of Maestro Maloney’s uilleann pipes that lulls then joins with fiddle, drum, harp, and guitar to create that Chieftains magic. The first half of the show had so much to see and hear it truly defies description but then again this isn’t You Tube. The music ranged from the Irish of “the Foggy Dew,” and “... Gallant Brave” sung by Scot soprano Alyth McCormack and voice of the Chieftains Kevin Connell to “Orange Blossom Special” and “Cotton Eyed Joe” assisted and sung perfectly by Jeff White along with fiddler Deanie Richardson. Midway the gents brought out a very special guest in Ry Cooder, the legendary musicologist, guitarist and storyteller who brought with him the dazzling music and dance ensemble “Los Cenzontles” who could have easily put on a fine concert alone. Much of the music was from the superb recent Chieftains work done with Cooder’s help called “San Patricio.” The memorable “Sands of Mexico” told the story of the St. Patrick’s Brigade of Irish volunteers who came to Mexico to fight, only to be betrayed and eventually executed for their efforts on behalf of Mexican independence. There was also electrifying dancing from the sensational Pilatske brothers and step dancing queen Cara Butler along with the Cenzontles that just released endorphins across the giddy hall every time they put toe to stage. The second half was just more amazement filled with Irish and Mexican sounds along with dancing by the Pilatske’s, Cara Butler, the beautiful ladies of “Los Cenzontles,” and the enchanting young Irish dancers of McCarten’s school. Could there possibly be more than all that? How about a full-sized pipe band in full regalia playing the rousing “March to Battle,” the Cenzontles dancing and playing “La Iguana” in the Jarocho style of Vera Cruz and plenty of Irish reels and assorted solos by harpist Trina Marshall, flutist Matt Molloy, Alyth McCormack, Deanie Richardson, Jeff White, sones from members of the Cenzontles and more hoofing by the Pilatzkes and lovely Cara Butler. Yet the highlight of the show may have been the heartbreakingly beautiful “Cancion Mixteca” that was introduced by an exquisite guitar lead by Ry Cooder and then sung by “Los Cenzontles” with such emotion it caused genuine goose bumps. Somehow, this show bejeweled with greats songs and dance performed wonderfully by a star-studded cast transcended the concert form and changed the afternoon into a celebration of the human spirit and left the audience glowing with joy. Whatever Paddy Maloney is doing to bring these shows off I hope he continues for a good long time.