The Chieftains generate their own power

03.15.12
Chieftains
Boston Globe

By Jeffrey Gantz

Back Bay may have suffered from a power outage this week, but the Chieftains didn’t. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, the lads are touring behind their new “Voice of Ages’’ album; they seem ageless (head Chieftain Paddy Moloney is “only’’ 73), and so does their Irish music. They’re the masters of crossover: they’ve performed in Nashville and on the Great Wall of China; they’ve covered Bob Dylan and Bob Marley; they’ve backed Mick Jagger and Luciano Pavarotti. Wednesday evening in a darkened Symphony Hall, they made their 24th Celebrity Series appearance. And if common sense tells you they can’t go on forever, you wouldn’t know it from their electrifying performance.

“Voice of Ages’’ has the band - Moloney on tin whistle and uilleann pipes, Matt Molloy on flute, Seán Keane on fiddle, and Kevin Conneff singing and pounding the bodhrán - mostly backing pop acts like the Low Anthem and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. At Symphony Hall, however, they were front and center, with help from Scottish vocalist Ályth McCormack, Nashville guitarist Jeff White, fiddler Deanie Richardson, harpist Tríona Marshall, dancers Cara Butler, Nathan Pilatzke, and Jon Pilatzke (Jon doubling on fiddle), the North Shore Pipe Band, and Norwood’s Smith Houlihan Irish Dance Academy.

Moloney began with his usual effusive Irish Gaelic welcome before “noticing’’ that he was in front of an English-speaking audience. “The Lament for Limerick’’ started off the music on a mournful note, but it was mostly uptempo from there. Conneff sang the emigration love ballad “North America.’’ White tossed “The Wabash Cannonball’’ and “Cotton-Eyed Joe’’ into “The Morning Dew.’’ McCormack, in a sparkly silver sheath, sang “Carrickfergus’’ and her “Vices Set’’ of mouth music. The foot-stomping reel “Toss the Feathers’’ was the anchor for solos, but the real solo highlight came later, Marshall in “Carolan’s Concerto.’’

It ended with “An Dro,’’ a Breton dance from the Chieftains’ “Celtic Wedding’’ CD, the dancers snaking through the Symphony Hall aisles and taking audience members with them. By that time, the lights had come up, but it wasn’t necessary. The band had already lit up the building.