The Chieftains came into Atlanta on Friday night and celebrated their 53-year existence with a show that highlighted both their own musical talent and the cultural influences that have impacted their style and musical substance. In a performance clearly demarked into two distinct halves they paid homage to their Irish soul and then in the second act broadened their musical appeal to incorporate other celtic influences from around the world.
Traditional Irish music as played by the Chieftains can be both beautifully, hauntingly melodious and in the next breath rollicking and unabashed. Both were in great supply in the first act when the eight- piece band was alone, gathered to one side of the darkened stage, performing mostly traditional Irish folk music. The beautiful melody was abundant during Kevin Conneff’s a cappella “Top of the Mountain” and Alyth McCormack’s rendition of what has become a Chieftains standard, “Raglan Road.”
To complement those beautiful pieces, faster more upbeat tunes like “The Rocky Road to Dublin”, the Troublemakers Jig” and the “Cotto-eyed Joe” had everybody in the mostly full auditorium tapping their feet as Irish dancers fed off the band’s energy with their traditional dance interpretation. On occasion, Chieftains fiddler Jon Pilatzke got up and joined in the dancing fun.
The second act had a very different feel to it as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Joseph Young filled the stage behind the Chieftains. A steady stream of guests then accompanied the band and the orchestra as a set composed of pieces from a broader world stage were played.
First the Grady choir provided a vocal accompaniment as the band and the orchestra played “Shenandoah” and “Anthem”. The opulent “Galician Overture” followed and was really the highlight for the ASO as their interpretation was just magnificent.
Other guests during the second set included the Atlanta Pipe Band who joined the Chieftains on stage for “March to Battle” a Mexican flavored piece about the Irish immigrant soldiers who fought in the Mexican-American war of the 19th century. They also returned for the encore, a rousing and spirited rendition of “Andro” as the dancers and choir danced into and around the auditorium.
The highlight of the second set though was “Panxty Mozart”. Brice Andrus, the ASO’s principal horn player stepped to stage center and he and conductor Joseph Young played the “straight guys” to Paddy Moloney’s and the rest of the Chieftains “funny guy” as they fed off each others renditions of Mozart’s Horn Concerto #4, a Moloney-written composition that interjected a Chieftains’ inspired playful Irish interpretation of the piece with Andrus’s and the ASO’s more tradition rendering.
That song, and more completely the entire evening encapsulated how the Chieftains have succeeded for over half a century. They stay true to their Irish heritage and roots as they did in the first set and yet extend their musical interpretation into other areas appealing to a broader audience. The Chieftains and their guests provide a wonderful evening’s entertainment.