It wasn’t the most glamorous of gigs for New York City’s Black 47, who played two sets in the beer garden pavilion at the Saratoga County Fair on Saturday night, scheduled between an auction of chainsaw carvings and Rosaire’s troupe of racing pigs. (Those pokey “racing” pigs are no thoroughbreds, that’s for sure.)
A Hulk Hogan impersonator in red tights wandered in as the Celtic rock group -led by their ever-amiable frontman Larry Kirwan, sporting green suede shoes – tried gamely to entertain the smallish crowd who entered the beer garden area to drink Killian’s Red at picnic tables sheltered from the night’s intermittent downpours.
It was the third area appearance this year for Kirwan, whose band played a more rollicking show (better sound, more fans) at the late, much-lamented Revolution Hall in Troy back in March shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, followed by Kirwan’s solo “Rock & Read” performance at Schenectady’s Van Dyck in April, where he read from his latest novel, “Rockin’ the Bronx,” about an Irish punk musician’s struggle to navigate New York City in the ’80s.
An author and fairly prolific playwright, the Irish-American guitarist/vocalist brings a literary bent to his music as well. Tunes like “Fanatic Heart,” a plaintive number about violence-ridden July 12th parades in Northern Ireland, and “Sadr City,” which Kirwan dedicated to troops in Iraq, demonstrated his knack for spinning third-person narratives in song.
Black 47 honed their chops over 20 years on the New York pub scene, and band members Thomas Hamlin (drums), Joe Burcaw (bass), Geoffrey Blythe (saxophone), Fred Parcells (trombone, pennywhistle) and Joseph Mulvanerty (Uilleann pipes, flute) gave Kirwan solid backing. You have to feel for Mulvanerty, whose Irish Uilleann pipes always look uncomfortable to play. (Just handling the bellowed instrument looks cumbersome enough; there’s definitely no room for looking cool while playing it.)
The big-barn acoustics, occasional blasts from a nearby truck-pull competition, and relatively reserved crowd (only a few souls were brave enough to kick up their heels on the dance floor in front of the stage) may have put a damper on the mood, but the band hit its stride on the jaunty “Celtic Rocker,” the Irish-reggae lilt of “Desperate” and the lovely “Summer Dress” from the band’s latest album, “Bankers and Gangsters.”
Review and photograph by Kirsten Ferguson
BLACK 47 SET LIST (partial)
Fire of Freedom
Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)
I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave