On The Saw Doctors at Tupelo Music Hall
It’s March. So it must be time for the Saw Doctors!
This time last year, I adventured out to Mohegan Sun with Tommy and Suzanne Strempek Shea to see the Shams at the Wolf’s Den. This year, I was on my own, Tommy having fled to the Middle East to edit a newspaper in Abu Dhabi. The closest venue to me this time around was Tupelo Music Hall, in Londonderry, NH. I’d never been there, though I’d heard great things.
The hall did not disappoint. By far the smallest place I’ve ever seen a Saw Doctors show, Tupelo seats 240 and has standing room for a few more up back. It’s intimate. I told a friend that, with my seat on the right, I was so close to Anthony Thistlethwaite’s side of the stage that I could probably feel him breathing. But I also told her that, as my seat was on the aisle, I wouldn’t spend much time sitting, either. And I didn’t. How could anyone sit when the Saw Doctors take the stage within arm’s length, and open up with “Macnas Parade?”
That’s getting ahead of things, though.
The band took a roundabout way to the stage, in from the back and up the aisle on my side, led by Leo Moran–who was wearing the parking attendant’s vest and waving his orange flag to clear the path. Since the audience was perhaps 90% long-time fans, this was the sort of arrival they were used to, and it provoked much familiar laughter. It set the tone for the evening, too: one of controlled hilarity. After mounting the stage, Leo said that, had they known they’d be so close to us (of course they knew), some of them might have showered. The band was in a fine humor all night, with patter between songs that included giving a hard time to drummer Rickie O’Neill (apparently all the women are now asking Davey and Leo if they play in that band with the cute young drummer), a bit of political/economic commentary, and a geographic placement of band members (Leicester? Islington? Chicago?). Then Leo’d say something about enough messing and they’d wheel into another round of playing.
Many favorites were represented on the playlist: not just “Macnas Parade” and the song Tommy Shea identifies as a masterpiece, “Takin’ the Train” (I agree with Tommy), but the sexy naughtiness of “That’s What She Said,” “Bless Me, Father,” and “I Useta Love Her.” In such a small house, the sound was raucous, especially as the faithful sang along–I had visions of the building rocking right off its foundations. Of course, as masterful showmen of long standing, they ratcheted the intensity down a notch or two with quiet songs such as “To Win Just Once” and “Share the Darkness” and then back up again with more rowdy pieces such as “Michael D” (that paean to Irish President Higgins) and “25 Quid.” That call to the Irish in all of us, “The Green and Red of Mayo,” had everyone swaying; and Anto Thistlethwaite’s solo on the sax in “Clare Island” sent us all into ecstasies. And of course, the band wound everyone up and off with “Hay Wrap”: when the bunch of them, Kevin Duffy included, lined up with the electric guitars, the roof nearly came off. The first note had me jumping up and down in the aisle. MY aisle.
Each of the Saw Doctors shows I’ve been to have had a different flavor. Last year’s, in the round theater in the middle of the casino, was kinetic and electric, and the big projection screen overhead lent it a kind of Superbowl feel; but this intimate show at Tupelo, with its patter which frequently turned to conversations between stage and floor, and the sense that the band was blowing the roof not off a concert hall but off our living room–this was by far the best.
I’m always grateful to Leo for playing “Galway and Mayo.” It’s a song that makes me think about my dad, and after talking to Leo about it last year, I was inspired to write a bit of flash fiction, “My Father Walks Through Water,” which was published in The Waterhouse Review. Mine was a dad who drove us around the countryside in a Ford, too.