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LEAHY

Lakefield Tour.

 

 

4 stars

December 6th, 2001

 
    Although the group still seems a little immature at giving concerts, what they do, they do very well. My feet were so sore after all that toe-tapping. My favorite parts inevitably involved the step dancing. Every one of the group members was terrific.

I just love Celtic dancing and music. I've loved the fiddles since I heard them on early John Mellencamp and Debbie Gibson albums. There's just something about them that makes me want to get up and dance. And by the way I loved the ceilidh that we saw in Prince Edward Island, and the Riverdance show a few years back, I'm getting my fill!

I first saw Leahy on Parliament Hill a few years back. I don't remember if it was Canada Day or six months later in the deep freeze on New Year's Eve... But I saw them there, on the stage on the front steps, and I was amazed at how they could play and dance. Their final act, where they all stop playing their instruments and take to the dance floor to step dance one by one, was incredible. Then a couple of years ago we went to see Shania Twain in concert, and Leahy opened for her. We were far enough back that we needed binoculars to see them properly, but even over the noise of an apparently uninterested crowd, they were really worth seeing. 

So when I saw that they were coming to the theatre just down the road from me, I just had to go! It turns out that they were filming a TV special for Country Music Television (CMT), so they had the lights on for the entire show. As Denise said, this was more like a house party for them. But I don't really like having the lights on in the audience; I found that it detracted from the enjoyment a little. 

Donnell is undoubtedly the leader of the family group. He likes to talk, too! Whenever he had to stall for the cameras (changing tapes), he would talk on and on and on... It was like being caught in the corner by the talkative relative. Denise was almost as outgoing; she would steal the microphone off Donnell and do some stalling of her own. She was giggly, and I would say is the most party-going of the family! Doug and Angus are relatively shy. They didn't say a word through the performance (not even vocals), and were content to play their fiddles, never stealing the spotlight from anybody else. The last guy in the family was Frank on drums. He also seemed content to sit in the back and hammer away, never taking spotlight and only coming out from behind the drums for the final step dancing show. Of course, I could be totally mistaken about all of this.

On the female side of the family, aside from Denise, there are Agnes, Maria, Erin and Siobheann (pronounced "shivon") on various guitars and keyboards. Erin was at the keyboard for almost the entire night, while Siobheann played bass. The girls (aside from Erin) looked so much alike that I couldn't tell who was who for a large part of the night! They are so obviously sisters, more obvious than that their brothers are related. How did they ever get all those gorgeous girls in the same family?  Personally, I thought Siobheann was the cutest!

As the concert started, I found that several of the band members seemed quite nervous or shy. From my point of view, this is a natural reaction, but I thought they would be over that by now. Very interesting. By the end of the first few songs, however, none of them looked uncomfortable or giddy, and they were obviously talking and telling jokes to each other, by the way they laughed as they approached.

One of the most endearing qualities of this band is their cohesiveness. Being all brothers and sisters (and apparently there are two other siblings who are not part of the band -do they work the farm back in the Maritimes, or are they waiting until they get old enough to join?!?) As siblings, they have a certain competitive nature. Donnell has a very specific sense of humor, very much in tune with my own (and with others I know who come originally from Montreal), and it was neat to see it at work. He would tell lightly disparaging remarks at his sisters in obvious jest, and they would return a glare at him. He is obviously the joker of the family. He also toyed with the crowd, typically reversing his position at whim. He dedicated a song to the Scots in the audience, then, after they whooped, played an Irish song. He said that when they thought of taping an audience for their TV special, they wanted a good-looking crowd -so they thought immediately of Kingston! Ha! This after we Ottawans congratulated ourselves!

But that competitive edge also gave them a camaraderie. Thus they were able to play off each other, dueling fiddle against guitar or keyboard. They were so fast, and so good, that it was incredible to watch them, and exhausting at the same time! The two keyboardists' hands moved so fast that I was completely amazed that they could put actual tunes together. And at the same time, their toes were tapping the floor in another rhythm! 

There were several moments when they moved from Irish/ Celtic jigs to softer, quieter songs. One of these is the current hit playing on the radio, Borrowed Time. I've found it haunting since I first heard it a few weeks ago, but after hearing the background on the song, it's even more so. All the vocals were done by the women, mostly by either Erin or Denise. Erin's voice is very soft, and she can do the haunting melodies so smoothly. Denise has a very strong voice, extremely well tuned, and she could belt out those choruses so that we could feel it in our guts. Watching them perform these songs, I noticed elements that I never saw before. I never noticed what part the fiddles or the bass played in Borrowed Time, and that was really neat to see. 

The halfway mark led everybody to the lobby where I think they sold out of their latest CD! When we came back to our seats, everybody in our row had bought one! I found that the intermission arrived rather abruptly, with no announcement and barely a bow. They finished step dancing, and the lights on stage dimmed. Some people thought it was over! 

The second half of the show had a lot of trouble recapturing the energy of the first half. It wasn't until very near the end that people were standing after every song again, and cheering with wild abandon! Although the soft songs in the middle of that set were really nice to listen to, especially the one with only Erin and Siobheann, they were missing a bit of the passion that had characterized the slow songs in the first half. Perhaps a little unpolished. But this group is still young, and is probably not yet used to touring and crowds like this yet. I'm sure it's a novelty to them -to play to a full house! Granted, it is a small theatre, seating just over a thousand people, but for both nights, they were nearly sold out! 

It was truly an amazing experience. For the group, it seemed like a house party; for us, it often seemed like a jam session. They looked like they were having so much fun. They ended the night with back to back energy songs, the fiddles going full blast, and Frank having a lot of fun on the drums. The last song was "Call to Dance", an abridged version of my favorite that I saw those years ago on Parliament Hill. One by one, they laid down their instruments and took to the step-dancing floor. Eventually, all the women were dancing up a storm, incredibly! Then, the men took the stage as well, with even Frank coming out from behind the drums to tap. With the nine of them dancing there, with no music whatsoever, only the tapping of step shoes, combined with the rhythm clapping of the crowd, the effect is really mesmerizing. 

They said goodnight, but nobody wanted to let them go. Donnell came back out to the standing ovation (of course, they received one of those after nearly every song -the crowd looked like a bunch of jack-in-the-boxes) and said "We don't know anything else!" Then they came back out and did a real jam session, playing something that, Donnell said, was very different every time they played it. Every single member except the drummer took turns at the fiddle, and it was amazing to see how versatile they were! When Erin took the fiddle, one of the others took her keyboard. When Siobheann started fiddling, somebody took over her bass. Donnell even started playing "The Duck Song" as a joke, which earned him a glare that might kill from Siobheann (especially after he touched her bass guitar!). 

Anyway, the music was really good. I wish there had been more step dancing, because they do that so well. But all the fiddle-tunes were a lot of fun, and I guess that can be exhausting, too. I also enjoyed the stories that Donnell and Denise told, giving us some insight into their lives and inspirations. A little more polish on the setup ands stalling talk will make this group an incredible set of entertainers. As it stands now, they are merely "terrific". All they need is time. For one, I would absolutely love to see them again.
 
   

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