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The Chieftains @ The Pabst Theater

March 6, 2010

Mar. 8, 2010
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  Judging by the response from the crowded Pabst Theater this weekend, it had been too long since The Chieftains have visited Milwaukee. But the quintessential Irish band, which has been touring for some 48 years according to founding member Paddy Maloney, made up for its absence Saturday with a joyous reel of a program that had the audience celebrating St. Patrick’s Day a couple weeks early.

   Absent were members Seán Keane, Martin Fay, who stopped touring with the band in 2001, and Derek Bell, who died in 2002. But head Chieftain and piper Maloney, flutist Matt Malloy and vocalist and bodhrán player Kevin Conneff have fleshed our their ranks with a group of talented performers who have added strength and depth to the ensemble in ways that have broadened the band’s appeal with sacrificing its authenticity.

   Familiar numbers from The Long Black Veil and cuts from San Patricio, a new album that musically chronicles the exploits of a group of Irish soldiers who left the U.S. Army to fight with the opposition during the Mexican-American War, filled the evening’s two-hour set. Harpist Trina Martin and Nashville musicians Jeff White on guitar and Deanie Richardson on fiddle have been added to the lineup, giving the band a fuller sound.

   But that sound apparently was not full enough. Scottish vocalist Alyth McCormack, a trio of Canadian step dancers, one of whom doubled on the fiddle, the St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy pipe band and a troupe of youthful steppers from the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance filled the Pabst stage with unexpected frenzy. Everyone got a spot in the limelight and no talent was left unexploited.

   The Chieftains have always been revered for their musical authenticity. The fact that their shows can be authentically good times doesn’t hurt their popularity, either.


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