Sunday, December 4, 2011

Music and Language Lessons continued...

Well, Jenny pretty well covered much of the weekend's entertainment. Filling in the very few gaps I can think of before moving on to the evening's top billing...

Running along the very full and rapid Garavogue River in the heart of Sligo town (and it is a town--half an hour's steady walking takes you clear through) was the very popular French market, featuring a dozen or so booths with food and crafts and food and more food. We probably could have eaten all our meals at these stands. We had one crepe (pronounced "creepy," at least by us) with Nutella and bananas, and then our dinner Saturday evening was a savory crepe filled with cheese, spinach, cheese, mushrooms, and cheese. Yum.

Then, with our bellies full of cheese and our ears full of fantastic traditional Irish session music, we set off to find the Sligo Institute of Technology, a venue name that ought to set music lovers' hearts a'flutter. (What, you've never heard of it?) It rests outside what one could call the proper "town" part of Sligo, and we had a bit of an adventure finding the place, despite our best map-reading skills. But thanks to a friendly cabbie, who didn't even charge us for the short lift he gave us to the venue's front door, we made it well before showtime.

Now, all the hype surrounding Sligo IT Arena as a musical wonderland made perfect sense. The arena (no, seriously, they called it an "arena") was a basketball court with fewer bleacher seats than my high school gym. Of course, the floor itself was filled with folding chairs and a stage. Seats were unassigned, so we were able to grab two aisle chairs in the second row, just stage right. (If you are ever going to see a guitarist up close, shoot for stage right--audience left--as that provides the best view of the guitar and, consequently, the musician.)

The opening act was a Scottish woman we had never heard of. (I think I'm allowed to call her a girl, seeing as she's younger than me. That's the rule, right?) Her name is Rachel Sermanni, and she simply blew us away. She played some songs solo, then brought out her friends and bandmates -- three fiddlers and a keyboard player -- to finish off the set. We were entranced. Her voice is at once soulful and soft, airy and earthy. She could sing you lullabies and then wake you up by challenging the moon at midnight.

During the between-set break, we bought Rachel's CD (tragically, it has only four songs). Her bandmates stood talking at the front of the "arena." Jenny walked right up to them, told them how much we enjoyed the show, and got them to sign our CD envelope. They told her they all thought the show was rubbish and that the audience was bored by them -- to which Jenny said "Nonsense!" The audience had been blown away, we both thought, not knowing what to expect from this unknown artist. Then Jenny went back out to the merch table to meet Rachel herself. Tres cool!

Then the lights went down and Elvis Costello ran on stage. He is, if nothing else, an inveterate showman. Whether his songs were rocking or crooning, the man was high-energy. He played a one-man concert, which I gather is somewhat a rarity for him, and he did a stellar job at it. (Jenny and I both wondered if he had been influenced by Neil Young's solo Twisted Road tour. It's not every day you see a man on stage alone with an electric guitar.)

I'll link to some videos below and let them speak for themselves. But some of the highlights were his medley of a song we didn't know with the Depression-era "Brother Can You Spare A Dime," his rendition of "Good Year for the Roses" which we had just heard done by the Irish band that evening, and his slowed-down and mellow version of "Alison." I could go on... but then I'd just be giving a set-list.

When Elvis wrapped up for the night, we walked by the stage and one of the roadies tossed me a pick. Not bad, huh?

Outside, all the cabs had been claimed by people apparently more desperate to avoid the walk home than we were. So we undertook the late-night stroll through dark and wooded roads, until in the distance we saw the lights of the city. We were not out of the woods yet, though, so to speak. We still had to make it past the hordes of vampire hookers and zombie athletes.

It was the Saturday night of Halloween weekend, after all.

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