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The Chieftains impress at the PAC

Brandon Hollihan | Monday, January 31, 2005

An incredible week has arrived at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.Not only did we have the pleasure of a dynamite performance Sunday from the Chieftains, regarded by many as the centerpiece of traditional Irish music, but also Thursday evening marks the arrival of perhaps the most famous orchestra in the world.”I think it’s incredible that we’re able to get groups with the notoriety of the Chieftains,” said Notre Dame student Bridget O’Brien. “As a senior, I’m really excited to see all this happening now instead of next year.”But it really is happening here? At Notre Dame? Was everyone headed to Chicago and ran out of gas?Whatever the circumstances, it is a musically historic week at Notre Dame, and the Chieftains kicked it off with an electric performance. In their show, they included numerous special guests and even the inclusion of a local group for the encore.The band started the evening with two up-tempo Irish ballads, beginning the program with a great deal of energy. The ballads featured a solo on bagpipes and Irish tap dance by the Canadian brothers Jon (whom also doubled as a fiddler) and Nathan Pilatzke. The brothers were astounding, as were traditional Irish dancers Cara Butler and Danny Golden. A group of younger Irish dancers from the World Academy also made an appearance in the show’s second half. It was surprising to see such so much time distributed to dancing, but there were certainly no complaints about it.The musical guest artists also demonstrated a standard of excellence. Spanish musician Carlos Nunez, who has collaborated with the Chieftains since 1990, performed on the Gaita (a Spanish version of the bagpipes), recorder, whistle, and bombard (a double-reed wind instrument, similar in appearance to an oboe). Nunez’s music felt mystical and even curious. It seemed as if he were diving into elaborate improvisational phrases that did not stray far from the melody, and yet still felt too complicated to actually have been written out.This perspective goes for much of the Chieftains’ music as well; everyone performed the concert from memory, but it seemed unlikely that every note played was planned in advance. The Chieftains are very connected with the rhythmic and formulaic aspects of their music. However they make sure to allow for just enough room for melodic variation, so that they do not become separated from the heart of the music.But just playing beautiful music is more than enough, as evidenced by guest artist Triona Marshall on the Irish harp. She did nothing complicated. She played her solos sweetly and harmoniously, and she sounded dazzling.After a finale that featured all of the musicians in a great jam session, the Chieftains brought out local Irish group Kennedy’s Kitchen. One could feel the excitement on stage, with the fusion of two fine groups – one with worldly connections, the other playing in their own backyard – resulting in Irish music. Paddy Moloney, the frontman for the Chieftains, endeared himself to the audience as the night went on. He cited the group’s incredible history, which includes eighteen Grammy nominations and six Grammy awards. “We would’ve won seven Grammys for ‘Down the Old Plank Road,” he added, “but those Dixie Chicks were in the way.”Moloney was also very grateful to the PAC for the concert opportunity, noting towards the end of the concert, “We really enjoyed coming here. It’s a fantastic theater, fantastic sound.”The audience gave the Chieftains a warm reception all night. “It’s been good to hear traditional Irish music,” said student Mike Cloughesy.Chieftains fan John Brady gave the concert rave reviews. “It was fabulous,” he said. “We saw [the Chieftains] in Chicago five years ago, and we liked them even better here.”The evening wasn’t perfect. The bagpiper actually came in a phrase too early on his first solo. One poor girl from the World Academy tripped and hurt herself while dancing. The entire audience gasped when Marshall’s harp was knocked down as the musicians got up to take their bows. Still, everyone held the evening in good spirits, and it made for a very memorable occasion.