SO-SO SOLAS: Concert Review

Solas on Stage

Over the past dozen years the Irish/Irish-American band Solas has established itself as among the crème de la crème of Celtic bands. Thursday night’s performance at the sold-out Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts did little to harm that reputation, though it didn’t do much to enhance it either. As Solas concerts go, this one was middle-of-the-road—one marked by glorious peaks and a few unexpected valleys.
Solas Getting Jiggy
Solas made their way through fifteen selections and two encores. Multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan—the band’s heart and soul—was stunning on his nylon-string guitar. His introductory lines to “The Gallant Hussar” were a marvel, and his work on the semi-waltz/jig set “Sunday’s Waltz/Double Oh” saw him lay down notes that were simultaneously delicate and muscular. Other highlights included Mick McAuley’s lead vocal on “Spencer the Rover,” an emotion-laden treatment that made Spencer seem more tragic than rakish. Máiréad Phelan offered a surprisingly deft cover of “Sailor Song,” a piece drawn from the repertoire of Rickie Lee Jones rather than the traditional well. Another highlight was Winfred Horan’s fiddle on the slow air “My Dream of You.” It had a faintly Russian/gypsy feel to it and not just because Horan had just told a story about the band’s recent trip to Moscow.

The latter moment redeemed Horan, as it came halfway through the evening and Horan was having an off night prior to it. This was especially noticeable in the first five selections of the evening in which her fiddle tones were too sharp. She was also throwing in jazzy riffs that were flashy and in keeping with her animated performance style, but which were occasionally discordant. Even Mr. Egan blew a few sour notes on the penny whistle (though his astonishing flute, guitar, and banjo work throughout the evening more than compensated). I also have mixed feelings about Phelan’s vocals and much prefer the livelier selections in which she’s less breathy and mannered.

The audience, already primed for next week’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, didn’t seem to notice the slips. Part of this is due to the band’s relaxed stage patter; Solas has a talent for making you feel as if you’re in a gigantic living room rather than a pub. Part is also due to the tremendous energy they put forth. When they crank up a jig set such as “John Riordan’s Heels/Hoban’s White House/The Lisnagun Jig,” all is right with the world and everyone goes home happy. And, let’s face it, mortal bands would kill to have an off-night whose quality meter spiked as high as it did for Solas on March 12.
Their new CD is available from Compass Records. See a good Solas live clip.



If only Yahoo has news, will only yahoos read it?

The news about the news is blue—newspapers are folding like origami and even venerable tomes such as The Boston Globe could be defunct by the time the tulips bloom on Boston Common. If you believe so-proclaimed “netizens,” the decline of the daily paper isn’t such a bad thing. “Citizen journalists” will democratize the news, the speed of the Internet will mean we can access stories as they unfold rather than the next morning, browsers will allow us to filter out what we don’t want to read, RSS feeds will alert us of breaking developments on issues we’ve been following, and the storage capacity of servers will allow in-depth coverage rather than what fits in the allotted column inches.

It all sounds good, except that’s not the way it works in real life. Pick up USA Today (aka/ Useless Today) and take a good look, because what most Americans will end up with will be an electronic version of that pathetic piece of bird cage liner. Yes, the Web does allow individuals to do all the things claimed and yes, it is a tremendous resource for those who have become passionate about a topic. If you want to follow the tragedy in Darfur, there’s far more information available on the savedarfur.com website than you’ll find in any metro paper. That is, if you’ve ever heard of Darfur.

Thereby hangs a tale. There is a vast difference between what is possible and what is likely. Let us put aside the presumptuousness that anybody can do what trained journalists do. A bigger problem is that Web info is too often like the tourist spot that’s three miles from your house; because you can go there anytime you never do. Initial awareness is the prerequisite to learning anything and the Web does a poor job of this. The audiences it serves best are fanatics and fluff surfers. (Actually, by volume the audiences it serves best are those looking for sports or pornography.)

I picked a slow news day, Wednesday March 11, 2009. The front page of Yahoo News had four “featured” stories. They were: “Family May Stay in Cave,” “Ex-Supermodel Shines in Green & Gold Gown,” “Basketball Team Trails Before Opening Tip,” and “US Tourist Spots that Attract the Most Visitors.” There were seven actual news stories listed on the home page and eight others for those bothering to click “More News.”

By startling contrast, the front page of the Boston Globe had stories on the stock market, how the recession has impacted CO2 emissions, the future of the FDIC, possible rapprochement with Iran, a Lowell curfew system, and a single human interest story—one about a Maine pub. Turn the pages of the first section and there are thirty-three other stories and nine op-eds. Among the things you’d learn from the Globe, but not Yahoo include: President Obama’s stand on education reform, Somali’s decision to impose Sharia law, an unfolding crisis in Northern Ireland, unrest in Kenya and Sri Lanka, the naval dispute between the US and China, and a breakthrough on ovarian cancer screening.

Oddly enough, none of Yahoo’s “featured stories” were deemed worthy of coverage in the Globe. There is real danger involved in turning the business of news awareness over to those whose idea of hard news is Britney’s latest stint in rehab or who got eliminated on “Dancing with Stars.” Too many Americans already wallow in pools of global ignorance.

This is not an anti-Web rant; I’m posting this on a blog for heaven’s sake! But it is a plea for sanity. The Web is too often promoted as a one-size-fits-all panacea rather than looking at its severe limitations. Until it does a better job at promoting basic awareness, I’ll smudge my fingers with newsprint to the bitter end.--LV



I hadn’t realized how bad the economy had gotten until I saw a headline from the newspaper from my old hometown in Pennsylvania announcing that a local resident had discovered an image of Jesus on his morning toast. This came hot on the heels of an apparition of Mary on a hospital window in Springfield, MA, and the $28,000 e-bay sale of a toasted cheese sandwich of the Virgin.

I must admit that my initial thought was that Cretins for Christ was rallying in the Northeast. After all, if you’re the Creator of all that is, couldn’t you do better than a slice of Wonder Bread? If you were God and wanted to get people’s attention, wouldn’t you do something cool like write across the sky in fiery letters? Or maybe drag out a golden oldie from the Old Testament and part a major water mass, send a flood, or smite an entire city? Jesus on toast? As a friend of mine observed, it sounds like a swear. Assume a faux Irish accent and let it rip—Jaaay-zuss on toast!!!!

But I realized I was being uncharitable. God is like the rest of us and needs to tighten the budget in these hard economic times. Fiery letters are all fine and good when you’re flush, but as many cities discovered last July 4, fireworks are an expensive luxury during a recession. By contrast, a loaf of Wonder Bread is just three bucks; the responsible thing to do is choose the cheaper option. Even the hospital window is fairly extravagant by contrast—a new window can set up back a couple of hundred dollars. But one must applaud God for giving us a sign of how to be thrifty until the economy perks up.

I hear there are new cut-rate revelations on the horizon—holy text messages, Moses on a Spam can, a prophecy website….. Until further notice burning bushes—at about 50 dollars per plant—are out; look for personal appearances in cigarette lighter flames. The Ten Commandments will be weaned down to just three; water will be changed into a cheaper Taylor vintage, and forty-three cents each is a lot for stamps, so look for handbills announcing upcoming meetings of Cretins for Christ.--LV