For the next two weeks, Philadelphia is awash with “Irish” bands. Most of them are home-grown and are playing at bars that are on the maps of organized pub crawls for the next two weekends. (Why do so many “Irish” pubs have initials. P.J. O’Toole’s, J.D. McGullicuddy’s, J.P. Monaghan’s? Wasn’t any Irish kid called by his full name? Or was calling him by his initials a way to ensure that he becomes a bar-owner?) Anyway, there is a lot of live Irish music around right now–some of it great, some of it less so. It is also the time when a slew of national/international Irish-music acts come through the area. The Chieftains played here Friday night; the SawDoctors are in town Tuesday night; and Lunasa is here on Wednesday night.
Black 47 was at the World Cafe on Friday night, the 9th. They were brilliant. It had been 10 years since I saw them last, and they are still musically tight, politically raucous, and extraordinary fun. The front man, Larry Kirwan is a dynamo of energy, the brass section is still stellar, and the newer additions (for me, that is) have added to the fun and musicianship. Black 47’s music is raucous and tender, a mix of Springsteen and the Clash, heavily infused with Celtic melodies and themes. The songs are filled with stories about life in NYC, paeans to Irish heroes, recollected broken hearts and broken bones, and clarions for political action.
Larry Kirwan, as I said, is prolific. I once saw a play of his on Governor’s Island at the Guinness Fleadh in 1997–now collected in his book of plays, Mad Angels: The Plays of Larry Kirwan. At the moment he is doing publicity for his latest novel, Rocking the Bronx; he has his own radio-show Celtic Crush on Sirrus/XM radio, has put together a Celtic Kid’s album and book, and is working on a musical with Thomas Kenneally (author of Schindler’s List).
But put that aside for the time. Two nights ago I saw Larry Kirwan and Black 47 do what they do so well–deliver a raucous, fun rock show. Below is an old video from perhaps their most famous song–anyone who was in NYC during the 90s heard in every joint that had a jukebox. So here it is: Black 47’s “Funky Ceili” (The video ends abruptly before the classic line, “Does he have red hair and glasses” and showing an infant with Larry’s horn-rims, hah!):