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Music

A Photographer’s Look Back at the Glen Hansard Concert

I had been pining for months since I had learned Glen Hansard was coming back to Philly with his The Wild Willing Tour. After brushing off his music twice before, he quickly became a musical hero whose artistry seemed to speak directly to my soul.   

Although I don’t seem to recall this interaction in the least, apparently NPR had done a story on him and my wife loved his song “Falling Slowly,” which we played in the car. When she pushed me on it, I dismissed it. A friend also recommended him. Again, I didn’t retain it. 

However, perhaps close to a year later, this same friend mentioned him again to me in reply to a Facebook post about what artist inspires you as a human or on a deeper level. It was something like that. Chris, the friend, really talked him up. For whatever reason, this time it stuck with me. So much so that I drove 45 minutes that day to the only Barnes & Noble in the area that had a copy of his famous  “Once” on DVD.   

I watched it that night. And the following day, I bought the digital version of the soundtrack and almost burnt it out. Not sure how I went from blowing him off to then becoming almost like a cult follower. 

Regardless, I was now all in. I brought that friend, Chris, with me to see him live. I owed him that much, right? I wasn’t sure what to expect from his live show or the opener.  I did know that I would not miss it.   

Arriving at the Merriam Theater, it became very clear that Glen had amassed a serious following in Philly. We made our way to our seats. I determined my shooting points for the show, then just waited. The house lights went out and next thing I knew, Glen came out with just an acoustic guitar. I thought to myself, “No opener?” I certainly wasn’t complaining. He got to the mic and launched immediately into a lively version of “Say it to Me Now,” which I knew from the “Once” sound track. 

Glan Hansard pulls you in right away.  After he ended the song, he thanked everyone for coming in early for the show.

He then began to talk about the opening act, Junior Brother, an eclectic singer/songwriter from County Kerry, who would go on to thank Glen for lending him his guitar to use that night. JB also thanked the crowd for coming to see his show, which offered sometimes humorous songs and stories done with an acoustic guitar and foot tambourine for an overarching folk sound.   

When Glen took the stage again, he started with a fully electric “Fool’s Game.” Having this preconceived idea of him as perhaps docile based on the “Once” sound track, I was blown away with just how high-energy, charismatic and animated his show can be.

Early on in his show, he mentioned that he was unsure about booking Philly again “this soon” as he was just here last year. The filled theater quickly showed him the love that this city has for him.

His show ended close to midnight, about three hours after it began. 

Glen interwove various tales, sometimes leading him to other off-topic tales.

The one that really struck me was when he spoke about eventually becoming pen pals with someone in the military who was deployed. Admittedly, he confessed much of the communication was one-way, that the soldier really was just looking for someone to listen to him, as he shared what was going on during deployment. 

It’s because of this that Glen continued this interaction but then became alarmed when the communication stopped. For some time, Glen was unsure of the fate of his friend until one night after a show, the solider came up and greeted him, offering him great relief. 

It was an amazing show with incredible music and wonderful tales. 

To see his entire set list, click here.

How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

It's that time again.

It’s that time again.

Hope you’ve dug out your car. There’s plenty to do this week, so let’s get craic-ing.

Maria Walsh will be the International Rose of Tralee for another several months, but on Saturday night she gives up her local crown as Philadelphia Rose of Tralee at the gala selection event at the Radnor Hotel.

The Burlington County, NJ St. Patrick’s Day Parade, always the first in our area, won’t be first again this year. They’ve had to postpone it until March 29 because of this week’s snowstorm.

This and next are the weekends for the pub crawls that are part of the fabric of the St. Patrick’s holiday observance in the region. We posted several on our calendar, include the Shamrock and Roll in Delaware County. Marty Magee’s is part of the event and will have live music, including the Malarkey Brothers, Joe Magee and friends, and the John Byrne Band. Don’t drink too much and enjoy the music.

The McHugh Irish Dancers have also posted their schedule for the next couple of weeks on the calendar so if you have a hankering for seeing some step dancing—high recommended just for the adorableness overload—check it out.

Also on Saturday:

Lafferty’s Wake, an interactive play, continues at Society Hill Playhouse.

The Bogside Rogues will be providing the Irish music at Paddy Whack’s in Northeast Philly.

The AOH Division 6 Montgomery County is holding its St. Patrick’ Day party at St. Mary Parish in Schwenksville.

The Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Ball is Saturday night at Falls Manor Caterers (former Kings Caterers) in Bristol.

The AOH Notre Dame Div. One parade folks are having their grand marshal ball at the Elmwood Park Zoo Banquet Hall in Norristown. Congrats again to GM Mickey McBride.

Belfast Connection is playing at Darlington Arts Center in Garnet Valley.

Blackthorn is the headliner at the Beer Festival at Harrah’s Chester Casino.

You can spend an evening with Celtic Spirit at the Nazareth Center for the Arts in Nazareth or with Donegal’s own Altan at Annenberg Center on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. (Side note: Altan was the first Irish group I ever saw live, and they hooked me.)

Jamison is taking the stage at Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill.

On to Sunday:

There’s an all-day fundraiser for the Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade at Maggie O’Neill’s in Drexel Hill. Doors open at 11 AM for Irish breakfast and if you tell your server you’re there to support the parade, a portion of your bill will be donated to the parade. At 4:30 PM, catch the local Celtic rock group Round Tower and meet the 2015 Grand Marshal Dr. William McCusker, who is the recently retired president of Cardinal O’Hara High School.

At 10 AM, there will be an Irish Mass at St. Malachy’s Church in Philadelphia, a recent tradition that looks like it might have staying power. Read our story from 2013.

The group Celtic Spirit will be entertaining at brunch on Sunday at Kildare’s Irish Pub in West Chester.

This Sunday will also mark the third anniversary of the burial of some of the victims of the Duffy’s Cut tragedy at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. There will be a memorial event at graveside starting at 2 PM.

At 3 PM, Blackthorn takes the stage at The Deck at Harbor Pointe in Essington for a fundraiser for the 162nd District. It’s a GOP benefit.

Catch local young phenoms Haley and Dylan Richardson and Keegan Loesel, along with the Cumberland Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band and the group, Sligo Road, at the Down Jersey Celtic Celebration in Vineland stating at 3 PM.

The Paul Moore Band will be playing at the Jokers New Year’s Association—think Mummers’ Parade—St. Patrick’s Day party at the group clubhouse in Philadelphia.

Women of Ireland bring their full stage production to the Keswick Theatre on Sunday at 3 PM.

Then on Wednesday

Villanova’s Irish Dance group will be showcasing their prodigious talent on at the Connelly Center Cinema at the University starting at 7 PM.

At 9 PM, the Druids, a rebel ballad band from Kildare, will be performing at Mary Magee’s Pub in Prospect Park.

Thursday dawns. . . .

And so begins the 12 days of Irish music at the Green Parrot in Newtown. Slainte, Seamus McGroary, Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones, Clancy’s Pistol, McGraw and McLaughlin, Seamus Kelleher, Tom McHugh, the Hooligans, Secret Service and Challenge Accepted are all booked there through the holiday season. Check our calendar for links to the Green Parrot where you can see who is playing when. Some of the gigs are on our calendar. (Bands can post their gigs to our calendar, but there are so many of them that we can’t usually do those.) For instance, we know that Slainte is performing on Thursday night because they always put their gigs on our calendar. Well done, men!

The annual Philadelphia Parade Grand Marshal dinner will be held on Thursday night at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia. Kathy McGee Burns, who has been the head of just about every Irish organization in the city from the Donegal Association to the Irish Memorial, is this year’s GM.

Also on Thursday night, the AOH Notre Dame Div. 1 Irish coffee contest is happening at the club house in Swedesburg. It’s a well-attended event that’s loads of fun—and, there are samples.

The Irish conversation group continues talking in Irish on Thursday at Villanova.

The Wolfetones will be performing at the FOP Lodge #5 in Northeast Philadelphia this evening.

On thank-God-it’s-Friday:

Hoo boy, this is quite a day and night.

Check out the Paul Moore Band on “Good Day Philadelphia” in the morning. That’s on Fox29.

Then, listen to the Bleeker Street Café Celtic Mandolin Concert on WDVR (89.7 FM) starting at 1 pm. That should be amazing.

The Hooligans will be playing for the early dinner crowd at Fluke’s on State Road in Philly.

The John Byrne Band with No Irish Need Apply are scheduled for World Café Live that evening. The show is almost sold out.

McDermott’s Handy—two fine musicians, Dennis Gormley and Kathy DeAngelo—will be in concert at the Bridgeton Public Library in Bridgeton, NJ. BTW, I know for a fact that these two will play anywhere. I once ran into them playing in the deli at a New Jersey supermarket.

The Celtic group, Carbon Leaf, will be at the World Café Live at the Queen.

The Glengarry Bhoys are scheduled to be on stage at the Sellersville Theater.

Blackthorn is back playing at Ambler’s The Lucky Well BBQ place. Love the band, love the BBQ. A win-win.

The Bogside Rogues are at Reedy’s Irish Pub in Philly.

The Hooligan’s are at the newly re-opened Dubh Linn Square in Bordentown (after their early bird special at Fluke’s in Philly).

The Broken Shillelaghs will be at Tavern on the Edge in Gloucester City, NJ.

2U, a U2 tribute band, is booked at Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill.

Isla Verde, a Philly bar, is having its first St. Patrick’s Day Party, though we’re not quite sure how Irish it’s going to be.

And a word about next weekend:

The Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade is on Sunday. It’s broadcast by CBS3 and CWPhilly but it’s really fun to see live. Really. I wouldn’t lie. The crowds alone are worth the drive or train fare. There are two Irish pubs along the parade route that are crowded and convivial (Tir na Nog and Con Murphy’s). Me, I usually eat a pretzel from a vendor because, hey, I’m working here. Last year, I bought gloves from a vendor. Best purchase ever. $5. For both gloves. But the weather’s gong to be nice, so fear not the evil Arctic blast or polar vortex. Or polar bears. There won’t be any of those either.

There are lots of parties after, but may we suggest Sober St. Patrick’s Day at WHYY. It’s one of a group of St. Patrick’s Day events across the country that cater to families and to those in recovery. Maria Walsh, the International Rose of Tralee (and an affirmed teetotaler) will be there, as will a remarkable array of Irish traditional musicians from all over.

On Saturday, there are beaucoup parades: Bucks County, Springfield, Hamiton, NJ, North Wildwood, Trenton, Conshy. I’ll be going to all of them. Yeah, right. Look for me in Springfield, if all goes well. Look for Gwyneth MacArthur, our parade photographer, in Conshy and in Philly on Sunday. You’ll see Lori Lander Murphy in Philly on Sunday and you’ll also see Jeff Meade there, totally wrapped in camera straps like something from 50 Shades of Grey. No one knows where he’s going to be on Saturday. He is the man of mystery.

Take a peek at the calendar for next week. It’s already large and will grow to Godzilla size (Aieee! Aieee!) by next Friday, when we write the last big How to Be Irish in Philly for the season.

Also, consider joining our Irish Philadelphia Facebook page. There are some lively discussions going on there (I especially like the “who/what is more Irish” debates) but there’s also a great exchange of information and ideas. I now have lists of great Irish books, movies, and songs, thanks to this enthusiastic group of people who share a love for all things Irish (and Philly). It occasionally gets a little salty there, but if you can overlook that, I think you’ll learn a lot. And be entertained.

Check our calendar frequently this week. It’s changing almost every minute.

Music

A Celebration of Robert Burns

Terry Kane and Don Simon

Where Irish meets Scottish … Terry Kane and Don Simon

The famed Scottish bard Robert Burns has a birthday on January 25. At least he would have had, if he hadn’t expired more than 250 years ago.

No matter. Last Sunday, the Abington Library celebrated early.

And as the centerpiece of that celebration: a great little group featuring four well-known local Celtic musicians. Two of them are best known for their performance of Irish tunes. That would be harper Ellen Tepper and singer-mandolin player Terry Kane, collectively known as the Jameson Sisters.

Joining them in the cozy downstairs auditorium were the kilted, sporran-sporting, ghillie brogues-wearing singer-guitarist Don Simon and his wife Susan on the small pipes. If you’ve never heard small pipes before, suffice to say they’re the baby brother of the bagpipes you’re used to hearing, and they’re really quite lovely.

Scottish culture, of the course, was the order of the day, featuring mildly baudy Burns anecdotes to Robbie’s original version of “Auld Lang Syne—somewhat different from the Guy Lombardo version. Don Simon faithfully recited the lines with a decided burr:

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.

And yes, we know Burns is Scottish, not Irish, but he’s a Celt, and that’s close enough.

We have photos of the performance. Check ‘em out.

Music

Ivan Goff and Eamon O'Leary in Concert

Ivan Goff

Ivan Goff

Piper Ivan Goff and singer/guitarist Eamon O'Leary are a couple of Dublin lads, transplanted to New York City, who nonetheless have a pretty good sense of how tunes are played in Ireland's West.

On Saturday in the Fireside Room at the Philadelphia Irish Center, as part of the Philadelphia Ceili Group's series highlighting the music of the West, Goff and O'Leary played a good many tunes evocative of Ireland's wil

d places. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself in McDermott's Pub in Doolin, the tang of stout mingling with the heady aroma of peat smoke.

It's a concert that almost didn't come off. The Irish Center lost power in the late afternoon, and the juice didn't come back on until just before the show. And during the show, there were times when the Irish Center's clanging heating pipes competed for attention with Goff's uilleann pipes, but he and O'Leary made light of the fact and quickly moved on. There's no question whose pipes won that battle.

We captured the excitement of this concert in video (above) and pictures.

Check out the photos.

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Music

Ivan Goff and Eamon O’Leary in Concert

Ivan Goff

Ivan Goff

Piper Ivan Goff and singer/guitarist Eamon O'Leary are a couple of Dublin lads, transplanted to New York City, who nonetheless have a pretty good sense of how tunes are played in Ireland's West.

On Saturday in the Fireside Room at the Philadelphia Irish Center, as part of the Philadelphia Ceili Group's series highlighting the music of the West, Goff and O'Leary played a good many tunes evocative of Ireland's wil

d places. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself in McDermott's Pub in Doolin, the tang of stout mingling with the heady aroma of peat smoke.

It's a concert that almost didn't come off. The Irish Center lost power in the late afternoon, and the juice didn't come back on until just before the show. And during the show, there were times when the Irish Center's clanging heating pipes competed for attention with Goff's uilleann pipes, but he and O'Leary made light of the fact and quickly moved on. There's no question whose pipes won that battle.

We captured the excitement of this concert in video (above) and pictures.

Check out the photos.

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Music

Review: Moya Brennan and Cormac De Barra at the Sellersville Theater

Cormac De Barra and Moya Brennan

Cormac De Barra and Moya Brennan

The last time Moya Brennan appeared in concert at Sellersville Theater, there was a frog in her throat the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. In short: She was not in good voice, and she canceled all concerts on the tour after that.

Appearing in concert this past Saturday night, she admitted, she felt bad about that concert, and she greatly appreciated the audience’s forbearance at the time.

No vocal amphibians appeared to sabotage the act Saturday night. In fact, Brennan’s performance was a spot-on demonstration of how wondrously well the voice can continue to serve a singer when well tended, even after 40 years.

Brennan’s voice is truly one of a kind, a blend of airy delicacy and barely restrained power, with resonant lows and tremulous, silvery highs. Her vocal range seems to have lost nothing at either end.

Brennan was joined in the performance by harper Cormac De Barra, one of Ireland’s most acclaimed performers on the instrument, with whom she released  choice little CD, “Voices & Harps,” in June. Accompanying the two was Brennan’s 19-year-old daughter Aisling Jarvis, playing guitar and whistle and singing harmony.

Brennan and De Barra set the tone for the night with the traditional Irish folk standard “She Moved Through the Fair,” the first track off “Voices & Harps.” Brennan shimmering high notes were a perfect complement to the soft strings of the harp, masterfully played by De Barra. (Brennan occasional joined in on a harp of her own.)

In many ways, this was a very different Moya Brennan than the Maire Brennan who fronted for the pioneering Irish band Clannad. Indeed, the trio performed several old Clannad tunes, including “Dúlamán,” from the 1976 Clannad album of the same name, “Theme From Harry’s Game,” a tune released by the band in 1982, and the encore “The Two Sisters,” from the 1975 Clannad album “Clannad 2” and the 1998 “An Díolaim (The Collection).” Several tunes from Brennan’s long solo career also made an appearance: “Against the Wind,” Brennan’s first solo single, released in 1992, as well as “Tapestry” and “I Will Find You” from Brennan’s 2006 recording “Signature.”

In this concert, all the old tunes were stripped down to their bare, acoustic essentials, absent the reverberating multi-layered harmonies, drums and synthesizers. It was like being re-introduced to old friends who had mellowed with age and yet have held up surprisingly well. Brennan acknowledged as much. Speaking of “Harry’s Game,” she said, “If you can sing a song and it can stand up to any style, then it’s a good song.”

So it went through the night… a blend of old Clannad and Brennan’s solo hits, coupled with several tunes from “Harps & Voices,” including “My Match Is a Makin’,” “An Seanduine Dóite/The Burnt-Out Old Man,” and “Carolan’s Concerto.”

On the latter, De Barra showed why, as Brennan insisted, he is possibly the best harper in all of Ireland. The “Concerto” is a complex old tune in the Baroque style, and it takes a gifted hand to play it with expression, bringing forth all its subtle beauty. DeBarra accompanied Brennan on harp all the night, but the word “accompanied” doesn’t really do him credit. The performance was a marriage of equals. De Barra also has an expressive tenor voice, his harmonies a strong counterpoint to Brennan’s breathier vocals.

De Barra showed off his stuff on another Carolan standard, “Miss McDermott,” paired with a perky piece, written by De Barra, called “Hobnobs”—after the chocolate biscuits he and Brennan munched in the studio while recording their CD.

And let’s give a round of well-deserved applause to Brennan’s daughter Aisling, a budding guitarist whose light, bright harmonies proved a lovely addition.

Let there be no doubt: Brennan’s Sellersville fans got their money’s worth this time around.

Music

Young Local Trad Phenom Conal O’Kane is On His Way

Conal O'Kane, third in from the right.

Conal O'Kane, third in from the right.

Conal O’Kane. We knew him when.

We first met the Philadelphia-born fiddler/banjo player/guitarist back in May 2006, when he played fiddle with two bands, both of them comprised of young local phenoms, in a traditional music concert at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. Like proud parents, we still have the pictures.

(We also have a photo of him playing at the 2006 Penn’s Landing Irish Festival with a fun little pick-up band called Pat the Budgie.)

Philadelphia has long been an incubator for young Irish musical talents. Conal O’Kane is one of our local kids who has, predictably perhaps, gone on to bigger things as a young adult. Now 23 and a recent graduate of the prestigious traditional music and dance program at the University of Limerick, O’Kane is getting set to make his mark in the traditional Irish music world.

O’Kane is the guitarist for the jazzy little Irish band Goitse (pronounced “gwi-cha”), which will perform in a Green Willow-sponsored concert in Wilmington on Sunday. All the members of Goitse are present or former University of Limerick students. He’s the only American.

Even though his roots are in South Philly, O’Kane from a young age has had deep musical roots in Ireland. O’Kane’s father Patrick is from Buncrana in Donegal, and the family returned there for visits every summer. During one of those visits, when O’Kane was 13 or 14, his dad introduced him to a legendary Donegal fiddler Dinny McLaughlin. McLaughlin taught or inspired many present-day stars, including Liz Doherty, Ciaran Tourish and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

“Dinny is a great fiddle teacher from my dad’s home town,” O’Kane said in a recent interview. “He taught me half of a jig, the ‘A’ part of Whelan’s Fancy, and he told me that if I couldn’t play it well the next time I came to Ireland, he would strangle me. I don’t think I ever got the ‘B’ part off of him. I had to figure that out on my own.”

Long before his introduction to McLaughlin, O’Kane was on intimate terms with Irish music; his dad loved it. Recordings by groups like Altan, the Bothy Band and Dé Danann played in heavy rotation around the house, O’Kane explained, and he had always enjoyed listening to it. “It was a growing interest,” O’Kane said, “but the thing with Dinny definitely kick-started it.”

When he returned to Philadelphia, O’Kane looked for a fiddle teacher. At a Sunday session sponsored by the Next Generation, a group of young Irish music students led by local talents Dennis Gormley, Kathy DeAngelo and Chris Brennan-Hagy, O’Kane met one of the area’s top fiddle players and a four-time All-Ireland medalist, Brendan Callahan. O’Kane became a student.

Callahan proved to be a major influence right from the start, O’Kane recalls. “I got really lucky there. He’s just an awesome player, and I went to him for a few years.”

Thanks to Callahan, the next time O’Kane returned to Buncrana, he’d learned well enough that Dinny McLaughlin took him under his wing. That summer, and each summer thereafter, O’Kane completely immersed himself in the local music.

“I improved enough for Dinny not to strangle me. That was the main point,” O’Kane quipped. “I mean, when you know you’re going to be playing for Dinny, you want to be solid. I started playing in Irish music sessions with him around Buncrana. I really enjoyed the session scene. That’s what Irish music was about for me—it was playing with other people in sessions.”

O’Kane continued to play fiddle and improve. Along the way, he picked up and also loved banjo, which Callahan had recommended to him as a way to learn to play triplets on fiddle.

And when he was about 16, he added guitar to his arsenal, inspired by the likes of Irish guitar great Arty McGlynn.

O’Kane’s next big move was the University of Limerick, although there was a brief musical detour along the way.

“I took a year off after high school, sort of bumming around Galway playing music, trying to figure out what to do. And then a friend of mine from Philadelphia told me about the program at the University of Limerick. I went down and auditioned for it, and got accepted. I just auditioned on the fiddle. I figured the fiddle would be my main instrument, with banjo as the second, and then just sort of plunk away on guitar on my own.”

About midway through his stay at the university, O’Kane was invited to join the then brand spanking new band Goitse (it means “come here”) after he competed in a local battle of the trad bands sponsored by the university. Goitse won the competition, and O’Kane’s band lost … but the members of Goitse plainly saw something they liked. He’s been playing with the band ever since.

For now, O’Kane is committed to pursuing a career in Irish music. You won’t see him play often, though, because he’s living in Limerick. Philly is where he’s from, but Ireland is where his heart is.

“I go back to Philly maybe once or twice a year. But basically, yeah, I’m still living in Limerick. It’s my home now and all of my friends are there … and there is always good music around. I’m here for the long haul.”

If you want to become re-acquainted with this gifted young man, you can see him in concert with Goitse at Timothy’s on the Riverfront, 930 Justison St., in Wilmington on Sunday,starting at 7 p.m.

Music

NicGaviskey in Concert

An Irish kick line: Keiran Jordan and Siobhan Butler, joining Bernadette and Caitlín Nic Gabhann.

An Irish kick line: Keiran Jordan and Siobhan Butler, joining Bernadette and Caitlín Nic Gabhann.

Fans of traditional Irish music got a super treat Saturday night at the Philadelphia Irish Center.

The band is called NicGaviskey—a kind of mooshing together of the band members’ names: Sean Gavin, flute; Bernadette Nic Gabhann, fiddle; Caitlín Nic Gabhann, concertina; Sean McComiskey on accordion (he’s the son of celebrated box player Billy McComiskey).

Gavin is from Detroit and McComiskey is from Baltimore; the ladies are from County Meath. They met at Catskills Irish Arts week in upstate New York in 2009, and sparks flew. In time, they collaborated on a CD, “Home away from Home,” recorded both in Miltown Malbay, West Clare, and Baltimore.

The band brought many of those tunes to the Irish Center, playing to a packed house.

And as an added treat … there was dancing. First, the Nic Gabhanns; and then the Nic Gabhanns, joined by acclaimed sean nos dancer Keiran Jordan, a Philly-area native now in Boston, with Siobhan Butler, also of Boston.

We’ve put together a photo essay of the night’s doings right here.

And, as you can see above, we offer four very cool videos to give you a sampling of the band’s superb playing.