The standing ovation at the end said it all.
The talented performers of Celtic Woman—at this point in the troupe’s nearly 15-year history can it be called venerable?—once again swung through town and left well-satisfied Academy of Music audience members on their feet and wanting more.
Truth be told, if they didn’t have them from the very beginning—and it would have been hard to find skeptics in that audience—they certainly had them at “Danny Boy,” which most people seemed to expect. They’d no doubt heard it many times, but with the announcement that “Danny Boy”—talk about venerable—was next up, there were audible “awwwws” and unrestrained cheers and applause throughout the audience.
The Academy was full very nearly to the rafters, by the way.
Megan Walsh, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and violinist Tara McNeill kept the customers satisfied from beginning to end. All four are gifted and talented performers in their own right, but a superb band and backing vocalists (who double as dancers and in some cases instrumental musicians) make the performance what it is—a well-oiled, well-crafted, well-practiced Irish musical machine.
The ladies are currently on the Ancient Land tour, and Thursday night’s performance included songs from the recent Ancient Land album, plus some golden oldies. Particular standouts were “Moorlough Shore,” “Long Journey Home” and “Homeland,” the opener. Their version of “The Long Journey Home” is the very best I’ve heard since Elvis Costello and The Chieftains.
Also notable: “Fields of Gold,” well-orchestrated and lush, as well as “Siúil a Remand “Over the Rainbow.”
One small complaint, and really that’s all it is, small: The backing vocalists frequently were under-amplified. It was often hard to hear them over the percussion in particular. That’s a pity because each one of the male vocalists/dancers—when they sang unaccompanied—were standouts on their own.
But again, that’s the only gripe, and easy to set aside in light of the overwhelming quality of the rest of the show.
Some others in my particular musical may also find fault with Celtic Woman’s lavish production, with the choreography, syncopated rhythms, and what at times seems like an entire orchestra backing up the ladies of Celtic Woman. That’s as may be. It doesn’t have the appeal of a traditional Irish music session, stripped down to its essentials and purity. Neither did Riverdance, the juggernaut that started it all.
On this, I would say two things.
First of all, it takes all kinds. There’s a huge following for Celtic Woman, and they love what they hear. Celtic Woman opens up a version of Irish music and culture to an entirely different audience, and if it at times appeals to sentimentality, so be it. People like what they like.
But the second point is this: Any one of those musicians on stage would easily hold their own in any trad session. You simply don’t get to be on that stage if you aren’t the absolute best of the best.
So all I can say is, good on ya, Celtic Woman.