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Featuring three of the best and brightest comedians and actors in Ireland, The Fellas Live! brought these minds together for a hilarious night of stand up. The trio’s individual themes were often similar, uniting the evening with a sense of cohesiveness as they explored ideas of religion, relationships, and the Irish in America. The delivery and personality of each comedian, however, differed greatly and made for a lively sense of variety.
Ardal O’Hanlon, who has starred in British sit-coms Father Ted and My Hero, opened up the evening. From his jokes about being a father and letting his children win at Connect 4 until they felt sorry for him and patronized him by letting him win to his remark about going to a restaurant to have an argument, one sensed the way he experiences daily life. He also talked more seriously as well, about the failing economy and religion, talking about a Sikh in Ireland who wanted to join the police force. Global warming, flu epidemics, and fear in general were other featured topics as O’Hanlon quipped wittily: “What’s next? We’re going to hear the Vikings have reformed!”
Of course, some of his jokes about Ireland were classics. He jested that the Irish were comprised of 90% rain and 10% resentment, for example, and how their chief contribution to the world was freckles. Perhaps his best line of the night, however, was an unrelated remark about cigarettes and the smoking ban, “I’m not a smoker myself,” he revealed, “but I’ve always loved coughing.”
Anyone even remotely familiar with the brilliant British television comedy, Black Books would undoubtedly appreciate Dylan Moran’s stand up routine. Similar to his sit-com character Bernard Black (complete with his full wine glass), Moran came across as a jaded intellectual misanthrope. Though Moran’s projects have also included films, most notably Shaun of the Dead and Run Fat Boy Run, his stand up personality comes closer to Bernard Black than any other character he has played.
While one can easily picture Ardal O’Hanlon and Tommy Tiernan preparing with practice and notes, Dylan Moran appears to do just the opposite. His routine seemed effortless and completely off the cuff, as if he had written down maybe four general topics and rambled the rest of his way through it. In other words, he’s a natural talent and his sense of unpredictability heightened the hilarity of his wit.
Rampaging against machines, particularly cameras, was his first target. As if adeptly commanding a derailing train, he ventured headlong into human dependence on these electronics then somehow segued into how we flock to religion and politics. Finally, he delved into the human need for relationships. While talking about people believing in each other, he suggested everyone comes to a decision in their lives when he/she must decide: “Sane or not lonely?”
Not surprisingly, Moran had some funny remarks about relationships in particular. He described a shopping incident where a man accompanies a woman who is looking for curtains and all the details she looks for in the many varieties while the man thinks, “I didn’t even know we had windows.” He also spoke about women being more aware of babies from an early age in a way men aren’t, adding color with an absurdist description of a woman who says how lovely a tree is and how you could put a baby up there. Perhaps his funniest and most bitter moment came when speaking about how men are afraid of women partly because of biology, but also because women have memories.
Finishing off the evening, Tommy Tiernan appeared with a more physical routine and an apt sense of gesture and movement. Without the confines of a center standard microphone setup, he was free to move around and imitate everything from dinosaurs to chickens in his critical wonder of evolution and the creator of such preposterous things. Though Tiernan has appeared on radio and television, his main achievements seem more connected to stand up comedy and it was easy to tell that this is definitely his forte.
Right away, Tiernan remarked about how he enjoyed Chicago as a “crooked city for crooked people” and how he found the American flag at Macy’s amusing as if people would forget what country they were in while shopping there. His most common topics, however, were aging and foreplay, and the differences in his perceptions of how to get it right as time has gone on. This made for a routine that may have been just as awkward as it was humorous for some audience members.
Not long ago I read an article by New York producer and DJ extraordinaire DJ/Rupture expounding on the nature of auto-tune. Essentially, he considered the phenomenon an exemplary synthesis between man and machine. While listening to the rising producer/songwriter Annabel Alpers at Brooklyn’s Union Hall Tuesday night—performing under her Bachelorette moniker—I was thinking the same thing. As an electronica nerd who’s best friend it seems is her laptop, Bachelorette calmly elicited longing, sorrow, and deep introspection in between melodies of shimmery synths and the occasional disco beat. Instead of an unrelenting dance cadence, her songs pulsated with feeling and sentiment. Her awkwardness and self-deprecating quips about her New Zealand origins only further emphasized her strangely sensitive electronic sound. The small crowd and space gave the performance a living-room vibe. While songs like “Doo Wop” and recent single “Mindwarp” were expressive and danceable, Bachelorette’s chipper unease left a cloud of tension in the room—despite her LED bedazzled dress. Listening to Alpers’ latest album, My Electric Family, at home just might suffice next time.
At their best, Pink Mountaintops is reminiscent of a more feminine Jesus and Mary Chain with a distorted sense of psych rock in songs like “The Gayest of Sunbeams”, which sounded increasingly raw and energetic live in comparison to the album recording. There was a rougher rasp to Stephen McBean’s vocals tonight, with less added reverb, and backing vocals that complimented him each step of the way. The evening often returned to a distorted melancholic folk style, though, with “Closer to Heaven”, a song full of bittersweet romantic lyrics and a building instrumental part, intensifying as it progressed.
Vancouver’s Stephen McBean is no stranger to the Canadian psychedelic rock scene. He’s a pivotal member of the awe inspiring Black Mountain and, as a special treat, this tour finds him playing with vocalist/violinist Sophie Trudeau, who also plays with Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra La La Band. While McBean is certainly productive—he has put out three full-length albums with Pink Mountaintops and released two full lengths and 3 EPs with Black Mountain—it’s interesting to see how both bands have developed separately with only some similarities. This can be partially attributed to the involvement of different band members in both groups, though Pink Mountaintops’ members seem to differ more. One key element is Amber Webber, who doesn’t join McBean on stage as she does in Black Mountain, allowing her to pursue her own side project, the more feminine and abstract sounding Lightning Dust.
Though it contained moments of catchy rock, the set seemed full of the band’s more sentimental folk songs, with the violin heightening the sentiment in the title track “Outside Love”, for example. They ended the main set appropriately with “And I Thank You”, and during the encore McBean brought out perhaps their most engaging rocker of the night, “Single Life” from the out of print seven inch bearing the same name. “Tourist in Your Town”, an old crowd favorite from their first 2004 self-titled release, did not serve up the same high as “Single Life”, but provided a great ending nonetheless.
The Parks Foundation knew they wanted Josh Ritter for the SummerStage season, but booking him opening night created an incentive for panache, so organizers told us. Thus the New York Pops were called upon to accompany the plainly eloquent singer-songwriter for his park debut. Ritter—backed by Zack Hickman, bass, Sam Kassirer, piano, Austin Nevins, lead, and Liam Hurley, drums—pulled out some older tunes over the course of his one-and-a-half-hour set (“Other Side”, “Bone of Song”, “Kathleen”), though most were saved for the end. Mostly the set stuck to his Animal Years and Historical Conquests repertoire. The latter record was also full of orchestrations and arrangements, setting up hopeful recreations. Unfortunately from the opening notes of the Pops’ overture it was abundantly clear that they would be the one blight of the evening. Even by community orchestra standards they were plagued by intonation issues—and technical ones beyond their control. They were able to scrap together competent accompaniments for a few numbers, though (“Kathleen”, “Empty Hearts”).
Salvation came in Ritter himself. He was unabashedly excited about his Summerstage gig, repeatedly doling out thank yous. In other words, he was his usual sympathetic, earnest and boyish self, practically speechless from the enthusiastic crowd and setting. His voice sounded strong throughout, particularly on “Girl in the War” and “Temptation of Adam”, as it either ached for a wronged lover or spun tall tales. His gorgeous melodies resonated with both equanimity and passion, and occasionally picked up the tempo as well (“To the Dogs or Whoever”). Two special guests also appeared, usurping the Pops in substance and style. Violinist Hilary Hahn joined Ritter for a duet of “Thin Blue Flame”, imbuing Ritter’s sound with warmth and feeling. And for his encore Ritter invited Glen Hansard to sing a duet on “Come and Find Me”. Hansard ended up running back onstage for the finale, “Empty Hearts”. It was a satisfying end to a dreary week of rain and an ideal start to the SummerStage season.