During the Chieftains’ rousing finale at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last Thursday evening, my companion Steve leaned over to me and asked, “Where’s the kitchen sink?” And indeed, the sink seemed to be about the only thing missing…
The Chieftains started out a half century ago as an acoustic instrumental Celtic ensemble, but over the years, they’ve expanded in almost every direction. Despite the fact that only three of the band’s core members – flutist Matt Malloy, bodhran player Kevin Conneff and, of course, uilleann piper and bandleader Paddy Maloney – are onboard for their current U.S. tour, the stage was jam-packed for the finale – with more than three dozen people onstage, many of whom also danced their way up and down the aisles of the Music Hall on the tour’s opening night.
The band was actually seven players strong with the addition of Celtic harper-keyboardist Triona Marshall, fiddler Jon Pilatzke (who also doubled as one of the three step dancers), guitarist Jeff White and fiddler-mandolinist Deanie Richardson. White and Richardson hail from Nashville, and their spotlight numbers – including Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball” and Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Waltz” – were straight outta Appalachia, not the Emerald Isle.
“It’s quite an honor for a hillbilly to be up here on stage with the Chieftains,” Richardson respectfully declared.
Naturally, there were also numerous medleys of traditional reels and jigs with a few airs and ballads thrown into the mix. Conneff stepped up to the microphone for a wistful a cappella version of “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.” And guest vocalist Alyth McCormack grabbed the spotlight for a dramatic arrangement of “The Foggy Dew.”
Throughout the two 55-minute sets, each of the members of the band played feature numbers, with Marshall’s tribute to the great Celtic harper Turlough O’Carolan, as well as Pilatzke’s solo on the Quebec fiddle tune, “The Bird in the Tree,” which soon found him joined by his brother Nathan Pilatzke and wife Cara Butler for a show-stopping sit-down step dancing set piece.
The band dipped into their vast back catalog for medleys from their Academy Award-winning soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and “Santiago,” their excursion into Cuban music. But somewhat surprisingly, they offered only a pair of selections – “March to Battle” (accompanied by a 13-member pipe and drum band) and Ry Cooder’s “The Sands of Mexico” (sung by White) – from their new album, “San Patricio,” which explores the Celtic-Mexican musical connection.
Still, by the end of the evening, not a soul in the crowd was complaining…