Pardon my French, but Holy Crap! Where was this show the last two nights? Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the indoor setting, maybe it was the air conditioning, maybe it was the full moon or maybe the ghosts of Woodstock followed them here, but whatever it was, it was special. First, though, let's rewind a little.
Since the drive to Rochester was only about 4 hours we got to sleep in a little late today. We left around 10:00 and dropped Rick off at the bus stop on the way out of town. As we approached Binghamton it began to rain and before long it was pouring. Enough already. After about 20 minutes, though, it began to let up and by the time we made a quick lunch stop the rain had ended, although it was still cloudy and threatening. As we continued north, though, the clouds got thinner and peeks of sun began appearing. As we headed west from Syracuse the clouds became more scattered and changed into the typical white puffy fair weather cumulus type. By the time we got to Rochester the temperature was a cool 78 degrees and the humidity had dropped considerably. Was this an omen?
After checking into our hotel, with Scott in full promotion mode with the desk clerk, we prepared for the evening. We were meeting several other forum members with their friends and family for dinner at 4:00 since the show was at 7:00. There were a total of 14 people for dinner: Scott and myself, Ralph and his sister Connie, Ralph's coworker Samantha and her daughter, the “other” Mike, Annie, Ed and several members of his family. After a very nice dinner we all headed for the venue. The weather had continued to improve during dinner and the sky was almost cloudless with a refreshing breeze. Scott was much more comfortable since his Colorado lungs had been using a spoon to breathe the humid air the last few days.
After retrieving our tickets and M&G passes from Ralph, who had pledged on our behalf, we all went inside. The Auditorium Theater is not as fancy as some other old theaters but it certainly has charm and could be made even lovelier with a little work. Unfortunately, the city wants to tear it down and build something new to replace it. No new theater will ever have the personality of the original and it will be a shame if it happens. Thanks to Ralph's unwavering attention we had the best seats in the house: front row orchestra, dead center. While there is a pit area, it was not used this year although it was used last fall; in fact we were in it last October. Like most theaters there is a divider between the orchestra section and the pit but this one is not a solid wall but just a railing, so neither our view nor the girls' would be blocked.
Before the show, Jack Hansen of WXXI came down to the front row to thank everyone for their pledges. We in turn thanked him for being one of the best PBS stations that we have dealt with in terms of providing quality seats with professionalism. We also asked him to pass along our thanks to Carolyn who was Ralph's contact at the station. She and Ralph worked hard to make it possible and, once again, thanks to both of them.
We were indoors tonight, with the oft-rumored air conditioning functioning very well, and it was a different show right from the start. For the first time the show actually started in the dark, as David intended, and the girls appeared for the opening number with their faces only illuminated by the candles they were holding. Something immediately felt different; I can't describe what or why, it was just a feeling. A feeling that proved correct.
All of the girls seemed to be coming from a different place tonight; perhaps there was some leftover Woodstock vibe. No matter where that place was, it certainly made a difference. Lisa's Fields of Gold was exceptional. Chloë gave her by now normal extended introduction to Galway Bay where she describes herself as a Dublin “city girl” and uses that as her excuse for not visiting Galway until last year. Even though Máiréad only did 11 spins, she more than made up for it with some unbelievable flying leaps. Great balls of fire, indeed! The indescribable new bits in Orinoco Flow were off the chart and I got chills. You have to hear it; no words can do it justice. I still can't find that rewind button. Lynn's always spectacular performance of My Lagan Love was even more mesmerizing tonight; her voice was as clear as the proverbial bell. It seems to have the magical ability to reach in and touch your soul.
Now it's once again time for My Heart Was Home Again and I have wanted so much to love the new arrangement. Tonight I finally did. The previous two nights Lisa didn't seem to be as emotionally involved with the song as Alex was; she wasn't living it. Pardon the grammar, but tonight she lived it, she lived it good. From the very first note I could see that she had sunk her teeth into it and decided to try to wrestle ownership away from Alex. Sorry, Lisa, that won't happen, but your performance tonight moved me to tears for the first time since I last heard Alex sing it. Bravo!
Actually, tears were shed more tonight than the two previous nights combined. Chloë's opening verse of Goodnight My Angel was much gentler tonight and more like the way Lynn used to sing it. It completely changed the personality of the song compared to the previous two nights. It was very, very lovely. Ah, Danny Boy. As soon as that first note hits the air you can hear the audience murmur their approval. Having Máiréad as the fourth “voice” is perfection and the harmonies seemed especially perfect tonight. We even got a standing ovation for Mo Ghile Mear! That doesn't happen very often anymore and perhaps I wasn't the only one sensing something special was going on.
Prior to the show Scott and I were taking to several people in the row behind us. This was their first live performance, they had seen the DVDs of course, and at intermission we asked their opinion. I don't need to tell you their answer. They were incredulous, though, when we told them that this was just the warmup and the second act was even better. We also made sure they had tissues at the ready for Amazing Grace, although we didn't tell them exactly why they would need them. Mr. Hansen from WXXI came back down and we chatted some more. He asked how many times I had seen the show and was little taken aback when I told him. But he understood completely.
Second verse, same as the first? Not even close. Anthony walked down the left side of the theater and onto the stage for Amazing Grace and the waterworks started. Like everything else tonight, something was different, more soulful, more heartfelt. I think Lynn has decided not to insult her seaweed suitors anymore but that didn't stop her from expressing herself. She was having way too much fun up there, more than usual it seemed. Of all the group numbers, Songs from the Heart suffers the most with one person missing. The double duet worked beautifully and made for a nice symmetry between the beginning and the end. While it still seems a little awkward, it was better tonight; not perfect but better.
I've said from the beginning in Roanoke that The Moon's a Harsh Mistress is a perfect song for Lisa and there was no more perfect performance than tonight's. When she bent down to prepare for that crescendo near the end, it felt for the first time like it might actually a worthy replacement for The Voice. The emphasis is on the word might, though. Chloë then brought out the big guns for When You Believe and I think that she might have knocked a little loose plaster off the walls. Even she let out a little squeal of surprise at the end! What are you drinking, Chloë, pure caffeine?
The problem with At the Ceili is that there is too much going on and you always miss something. Tonight I decided to watch Máiréad for a little while (Gee, I wonder why?) and her and Eoghan were really going at it, completely oblivious to everything else going on. They were in their own little world and it was so much fun to watch. Of course, that means I missed a bunch of other stuff.
Last Rose Fantasia is and always will be my favorite Máiréad piece and even though it's finally been recorded for posterity, and my perpetual listening pleasure, there is still nothing that compares to a live performance. From Des's opening guitar solo while Máiréad stands silhouetted in the shadows striking the loveliest poses to the final note it is the the singularly most beautiful thing I've ever heard. But watching her face and body language as she pulls those amazing notes from somewhere deep inside her soul takes it to a whole new level. Wherever that new place is that I mentioned at the top of this review is, she was pulling the most amazing things from there and I hope she never stops.
Máiréad also kicked it up a notch or two during The Mason's Apron, head-butting Nick, butt-butting Ray (!) and hip-butting Nick again. Take it easy girl, remember they're competing for your affection not the other way around! The song that best showcases the girls' voices is Non C'è Più and tonight's performance was one of the best. Soaring high notes held for what seemed like ages were a treat for the ears and a curse for the tear ducts. After Máiréad's introduction to You Raise Me Up the audience once again murmured their approval. I watched Máiréad, as I always do, and she seemed to be having a grand time in another world. Can I join you there sometime? The audience was on its feet before Lisa even finished thanking them. A stunning Finale followed by a rollicking Spanish Lady finished off the night.
And what a night it was. Everyone seemed to be channeling something extra from somewhere and it showed. For me, the night was extra special because of my seat location. I got lots of interaction from all of the girls, especially a certain fiddler who needs no other identification. It was glorious. I've always said that this show belongs in these old theaters, not arenas and with rare exception (Wolf Trap and Red Rocks) not outdoors either. Tonight proves why.
The original review is here.