There was more than a suggestion of irony in the air at the Lyric Theatre last night. How else do you explain a taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour that set the works of one of Ireland’s greatest literary figures to music by a Scotsman – all with St. Patrick’s Day less than a week away?
But the merging of William Butler Yeats poetry with the melodies and pop turns of Mike Scott, chieftain of post-punk folk revisionists The Waterboys was an astonishingly flattering fit. Perhaps it was because Scott has lived so much of his life in and out The Waterboys in Ireland that borderlines have ceased to matter. Maybe it was his discovery of a genuine musicality within the Yeats poetry he chose to compose to – an epiphany emphasized last night by the unlikely blues feel he brought to The Lake Isle of Innisfree, the churchy ambience that underscored White Birds and, best of all, the near psychedelic delicacy draped around Song of Wandering Aengus. Or it could have been the accompaniment of the schooled Dublin fiddler and longtime Waterboys ally Steve Wickham, who injected Yeats’ Mad as the Mist and Snow with serene Celtic flair that was spry, lyrical and, yes, a touch mad.
The bulk of the program was pulled from the recent Waterboys album An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, a recorded variation of the tribute show Scott has been touring with for years (it has its North American premiere next week in New York). But there were other delights as well, like a two song encore of Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Passin’ Thru that tossed the Waterboys’ Scots/Irish spiritualism straight into Americana pastures. The piece de resistance, however, was a true St. Patrick’s treat – a version of the classic Waterboys hit Fisherman’s Blues that emphasized the effortless Celtic soul in Wickham’s playing and the sleek Hammond organ support of Nashvillian Paul Brown.
A footnote: the WoodSongs broadcast included a few readings of Yeats’ poetry sans music. Among them was the jocular A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety, read with relish by Alltech founder/president/brewmeister PearseLyons. Talk about irony.