On Flyin’ It with Leo & Anto
With the Saw Doctors on a tour hiatus for the time being, Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite are restless. That’s why they’ve been stepping out with friends back in Ireland as The Cabin Collective, and, starting this past weekend, together as a singing-storytelling-flying duo.
They’ll be spending six weeks or so this fall visiting US venues, but they began with their landing for two shows at the Palmer Historic and Cultural Center, in Three Rivers, Massachusetts–or, as this particular hall became for the two nights, Shea Stadium, on account of the shows being arranged and promoted by the writers Tommy and Suzanne Strempek Shea. My way-cool sister Susan and I procured tickets early, and ended up in the second row, right up front in a sold-out house.
It was odd, in a way, to see Leo and Anto on their own. Still, it was obvious that they worked well together, that they understood each other musically and personally, and that they enjoyed performing. Anto had far more opportunity during their two sets to show off his expertise on the saxophone–something he does not get to do often at shows with the Docs. Leo only had the one accoustic guitar (fans are used to seeing him move between his guitars during shows, depending on the demands of the playlist). Anto had several different harmonicas, and one of the most amusing parts of the evening was his having to check one of the instruments with Leo at the beginning of a song: E, Leo said, and everyone laughed. (Another amusing part was Anto’s story of partaking in illicit activities with Bob Dylan at Jimmy Page’s Kensington house in the middle ’80’s, but I’ll leave the details to him.) And…there was mandolin, beautiful beautiful mandolin!
The playlist itself was a mix of new music–much of it included on the CD the two recorded for the tour–and a couple of old Saw Doctors standbys, as well as a smattering of songs by Padraig Stevens. Anto gave us an original work called “Back to the Land” about the disappointments of a small-town boy in the big city; his lead vocal is in fact reminiscent of a young Dylan. Leo’s “Shamtown” was a bittersweet song about unrequited love: You don’t come to my house when you dream; Anto’s bluesy sax and harmonizing were perfect punctuation. A theme developed when they played “Winter’s Just a Dream,” which is a gentle love song along the lines of the Docs’ “Clare Island,” and which Leo introduced by telling a story of writing about how people always want what they don’t have now. Oh, and the pair played “Clare Island” in the second set, in case you were worried.
The second set was tinged with a bit of anger, perhaps even bitterness. Leo and Anto played Padraig Stevens’ “Fill Her Up There Mister Oilman,” about the jailed Rossport Five protesters of Northern Mayo, who went up against Shell Oil and government collusion. But the pair couldn’t stay dark for long. The entire audience sang with “Galway and Mayo,” the magnificent nostalgic song about driving the countryside in father’s old For car. “All Credit to the Credit Union,” a song Leo and Padraig Stevens wrote for the credit union in Tuam, was a masterpiece of audience participation (and even my way-cool sister, who works in a credit union, sang for this one). The final song of the encore, “Tommy K,” featured the surprise guest-accordion-playing of our hostess, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and had everyone in the aisle dancing with our host, Mister Tommy.
All in all, a splendid evening–not without kinks, but as Leo said more than once, he and Anto were beginning their tour in Three Rivers, because they were working out the wrinkles among friends. And if the after-party three doors down at Amoroso’s Italian restaurant was anything to go by, they were among many many friends, myself and my way-cool sister included.