Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rachel Sermanni at Whelan's Upstairs, March 9

Several months ago, Jenny and I went to see Elvis Costello at Sligo Live. If you read the post about our trip to Sligo, you may remember that we were absolutely stunned by the musical talent of Costello's opening act, a young Scottish woman named Rachel Sermanni.

When we caught word that Sermanni was going to put on a show here in Dublin, of course we jumped all over the chance to buy tickets. We'd purchased her first EP at the Sligo concert, and while it's lovely, it's far from representative of this girl's range. She's a true live performer, and in case she never makes it over the pond (though we really think she could be huge), we wanted to take the chance to see her sing one more time.

The show was at Whelan's Upstairs, which is just the upstairs portion of Whelan's, a decent-sized and apparently pretty well-known bar and performance space. It's got an old and half-renovated feel to it (apparently the current owners took over partway through a renovation, and rather than keep the place shut to finish, they decided to open anyway and have live music every night). We'd never been there before, so we didn't know what to expect. Seedy bar? Standing-room-only rock and roll room? Rows of folding chairs?

We were, to say the least, surprised to see the show would be held in a fairly small room, the stage all of six inches off the ground, with the audience seated at eight or ten low candlelit tables and the rest perched on stools in the back of the room. The crowd couldn't have been more than fifty or sixty people. The walls were brick, you could hear traffic through the window and the bar crowd through the opposite wall -- and yet, all of that only added to the charm and the ambiance.

This was the kind of place in which, if the musicians ever hit the big-time, you'd be proud to say you saw them when.

Jenny and I had eaten dinner at Messrs Maguire on the Liffey quays beforehand, and while we were less-than-enthused about the beer (not that it was bad -- it was, as Jenny said, "paint-by-number beers" -- and at least it was one of the rare brewpubs here), the meal had been good. We wanted to take the evening light, so we ordered our ciders, sat at a table right at the front and just stage right of center, and enjoyed the feel of a true date night. (Hey, dinner, a candlelit show, and me wearing a jacket counts as one hell of a date night!)

The opening act, another young Scottish musician, was a perfectly decent singer and keyboardist. I'll be honest, though, I've already forgotten his name; his voice had those high, frail, sappy qualities to them that seem to be "in" now and for the past couple years, but that will probably be out of fashion by 2014. Rachel Sermanni came on -- performing solo this time, without the ladies who had accompanied her in Sligo -- and despite seeming so tiny and so young, she commanded the stage and our attention.

I'll link to the videos below, so you can see for yourself. (These videos are probably about a third of the total show -- there were a few songs, like the one called something like "I Have a Girl," that I wish I could have captured.) Sermanni has impressive range -- of volume, of soulfulness, of fingerwork on the guitar, of songwriting styles. She showed off much of her talents, and did a fair bit of chatting between songs. (Who knew she was so hilarious? Jenny found her hysterical -- listen for her laughter on a couple of the tracks on YouTube.)

The Fog


a pirate song

the burger-van song (our new favorite)


On the way out, we absolutely did NOT peel a poster off the notice board, roll it up, slip it out, and hang it on our door at home. We'd be awesome if we had, though.

And Rachel, if you should ever read this: Please put out a full-length album or four. They'd do you so much more justice than a four-song EP.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Into the Crypts and Through the Looking Glass

(I'm hoping Zach will get on and post about how awesome Rachel Sermanni's show was, but we did get some recordings up on our Live wEIRe link, so check 'em out in the meantime.)

Monday morning, we took Randy, Kaci, Aja, Ali, and Natalie for a whirlwind tour of Dublin. (For those who don't know, that list comprises a portion of Zach's sisters except for Randy and Natalie).

Our first stop, after strolling the Quays (pronounced keys) along the River Liffey, was St. Michen's church, which was said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. It is also one of Dublin's best kept sightseeing stops. The tour guide was hilarious! He took us down into the burial crypts under the church to see mummies in open coffins. Some of the mummies were 800-900 years old. Not ancient Egypt, but a no less gory experience! Other crypts had skulls lining the floor. Others had caskets piled on caskets--some of which had broken open, leaving a severed leg and foot for us to gawk at! The tour guide also allowed us to enter one of the chambers with the mummies and we touched the hand of a Crusader for good luck! If you've never touched the rotting appendages of a mummy...all I can say is geeeyyaaaahhhhggggggg. Creepy!

After that we wandered the uh, well, wonders of O'Connell Street: the Writer's Museum and Centre, Garden of Remembrance complete with a statue of the Children of Lir, the Abbey Theater, and the General Post Office. We also stopped and gave appropriate oohh's and aww's to the stiffy on the Liffey or the stiletto in the ghetto: the giant millennium needle erected during Ireland's boom years.

We trickled down to Trinity College where we showed them around the campus a bit and then whisked them into the Long Room (ancient library), which is always a happy place for a couple of bookworms like me and Zach. With class and homework still in progress, we had to let our family guests peel off and tour St. Stephen's Green, Marrion Square and other such wonders on their own, but we did meet up again to dine at Porterhouse in the Temple Bar district. It was a great night after a great day!

Yesterday, we traveled to Dingle. Zach and I had to go by train because we still had classes and such, while Randy and the girls drove across the island!

While traversing the landscape Zach noticed something spectacular: how similar some of the hilly scenes and houses were to New Mexico. Even the yellow scrub brush looks like our coppery creosote. I suddenly realized that what might have attracted us to Ireland was its bizarre similarity to our homeland. Where we have sand, they have grass, but otherwise, it is a bald, barren, and lonely landscape with miles and miles to go. For just a moment I realized we had stepped through the looking glass!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Whelan's and Family Visit Extravaganza!

Tonight, Zach and I are headed in to Dublin to see Rachel Sermanni play at Whelan's Pub.

Rachel, as many readers know, charmed us back in October when she opened for Elvis Costello at the Sligo Live Music Festival. She gave a great show, and proved herself to be a powerfully hypnotic singer. I always think that she sings the way some people embroider thread, for the way she works her voice back and forth through the air, intricately designing sounds and textures.

With any luck we'll put up a post and share some video clips from the performance. (You can always check out our video feeds by clicking on the Live wEIRe--like live wire--link over on the right panel of this blog.)

As for the venue, I think we're in for a treat there as well. Where Whelan's now sits has been the site of a pub of one kind or another since 1772. Since 1999, according to their website, Whelan's has been nurturing local artists and international performers. They keep it rockin' seven nights a week!

By this time Sunday we should be welcoming a large delegation of Zach's family to Ireland. His dad, Randy, three (of four) sisters, and one sister's chum fly in to Dublin late Sunday morning and should arrive to Sandycove by early afternoon. We can't wait to show them around or little village!

Monday, we'll go sightseeing around Dublin and the rest of the week promises to be full of adventures and explorations of other parts of the island. Which of course means more travel posts and lots of eye-boggling pictures!

Until then, keep your whistles wet and your boots dry, in all fairness like.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventures in Rivendell

This time of year in Ireland is that magical period called Reading Week, when students don't have to go to class and get to screw around by tootling all over the continent really far ahead on their schoolwork for the rest of the term.

Jenny and I are two of the only people on the island treating reading week at face value. We've been doing so much reading and writing and catching up and trying to get ahead that we wonder how we ever do this with silly classes and stuff in the way.

But we promised ourselves that, no matter how much work was staring us down, we would get out of town for part of the week. We tossed around several more remote locations, and then we recalled the recommendations of several native-Irish friends.

So Glendalough it was.

The pronunciation varies depending on who you talk to (some say Glendalock and others Glendalow) (some even say Glenda-lahhhhhcccchhh, which much phlegm), but across the board, everyone agreed that it was one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, and ultimately very close and accessible.

Accessible might be debatable--it's not reachable by train or public bus, and requires at least two legs of journey no matter how you slice it (we took the train and a cab there, a private bus and the DART home)--but the beauty was absolutely understated.

We were truly stunned, and yet we felt right at home, nestled between mountains (for you Albuquerque folks, =decently big hills) and a whole range of spruce, rowan, birch, and other trees. Glendalough is part of the giant Wicklow national park, and we feared that this portion of it would be too large to see in a day. Not so -- we took pretty much the whole thing in during one afternoon, and we dallied and lingered and soaked it all up much more leisurely than many folks. Jenny is the master of capturing the majesty and the nuance of places like this, so I'll leave the real descriptions to her and tackle the itinerary myself. (My comments are in italics, just like on our old beer blog. I've restricted my gushing descriptions to a poem at the end of the post.)

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, enjoy the slideshow before reading on:

Right behind the visitor's center is a cemetery and ancient monastic settlement. While none of the remaining structures are this old, monks first moved in during the 6th century! Still standing are several buildings without roofs (and varying amounts of walls), like the old cathedral, part of a monastery, and part of a house. Then there's the classic Irish tower. And the cemetery is who knows how old. Of the dozens (hundreds?) of legible headstones, several date as far back as the late 1700s, but then many standing rocks are so eroded as to be blank. And who knows how many people are buried among the others without markers?

History nerds buffs though we are, we were really itchin' to get to the nature bits. The two lakes (Glendalough means "glen of two lakes") are fed by a number of streams, most prominently the [Jenny help me out here! (She shrugs with a giant question mark floating overhead)]. The water in the lakes and most of the streams is dark, yet absolutely clear.

Along the path, several little rivulets come trickling down the hill. One caused a noticeable, if small, waterfall, and we joked that maybe this was the waterfall we had heard so much about. (It wasn't.) We ate our picnic lunch by the second lake.
Here's video from the lake, showing just how tranquil it was:

Then we explored a truly surreal pine tree before climbing the hill next to the real waterfall.

Atop the hill, where two creeks join together before tumbling down to the lakes below, Jenny and I lingered among the moss, the trees, the pine cones, the clovers, and the constant rush of mountain water. We even crossed over by jumping on stones to get to the triangular dell in the middle of the fork!

The walk back was just as beautiful, and completely different, because the sun's new angle cast the whole landscape into a new dimension. When we got to the visitor's center, we decided to treat ourselves--so we visited the hotel next to the monastic site (ah, tourism) and had coffee with a "brownie" (=light chocolate cake) and mint chocolate chip ice cream on top!

Then we got to be kids. Like, completely and totally kids. In the adjacent grass field was a typical grass maze-looking thing (a snaking path in a circular pattern cut into the grass). We chased each other through it. We played tag. We played follow-the-leader. We spun around in circles until we made our heads hurt! That's when we remembered that our bodies are grown up, even if our spirits aren't always.

The sun was dipping behind the mountains by this time, though it wouldn't officially set for another hour or two. We boarded the bus, stayed cuddled up as we caught the train in Bray just in time, and disembarked in Dalkey instead of Sandycove. On purpose, mind you--we wanted to continue the day's adventure by walking home from the opposite side!

Collected Impressions of Glendalough
by the feral minds of Jenny and Zach 

The deep fissures of the valley, 
etched by the finger of some God, 
as easily as a child might scrape tunnels through mud. 
We looked across the flat, rippling belly of the lake 
to where the mountains spread like thighs in the distance. 
We find a tree standing not on a central trunk, 
but on a pillar of dark, flowing tresses.
The branches dip 
like the branches on a candelabras.
For the moment, we alight.

(Credit for the phrase and concept of "feral minds" belongs to V.B. Price)