Last night, Spousal Unit and I saw Rising Gael play at the Stoughton Opera House. The group is originally from Wisconsin (one of the CDs we picked up was recorded in Cottage Grove), and from their witty banter on stage, it sounded like they had many friends in the audience. Spousal Unit first heard them on The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast and has loved them ever since.
Their first song of the night was Nova Scotia Farewell, which is becoming my favorite song the more I think about it. Lead singer and pipe master (a.k.a. flautist) Erin Ellison has such a strong, distinctive voice - I especially love the effects when she hits the high notes in this song.
Despite that, the audience was quiet early on. A little too quiet. (Can you blame them? Stoughton is full of Norwegians - we don't get rowdy unless we're instructed to.) "We're used to playing pubs," guitarist Peter Tissot announced, encouraging the audience to get into it. And that was all it took.
Rising Gael also played William's Ghost in the first set, which they said was That Song for a while - the one they played till they could no longer stand it. But they'd gotten over it enough to enjoy playing it for us (or at least cover up their boredom very well).
This picture is from when Peter and percussionist Jeff Olson played Tam Lin. Peter described it as musical bare-knuckle boxing - and they certainly played the part, weaving around each other and bobbing in and out with the music. These two had the most amazing dynamic when they played together. The energy was high and it was easy to sense the sheer joy they felt.
Jeff played quite excellent bodhrán and really got into it for every song, moving his entire body with the beat. But the most interesting part was probably the surprise beat-box bagpipes. Jeff played the bagpipes and Peter beat-boxed (one of several times he used that skill in concert). It was both delightful and hilarious (in a good way - I was not expecting to hear beat-box at the Stoughton Opera House).
Toward the end of the set, fiddler Katie Dionne, furiously working her magic all evening, stepped it up - literally. She only step-danced for a short time, but it was clear that she was a step above the other musicians we've seen do step dancing. I only have April Verch and Slide to compare her to, but still: those were some impressive moves.
They closed with a high-energy rendition of Donald McGillavry - the most unique version I've ever heard. And if I thought it was unique on stage, I was blown away by the electronic remix of it on their CD These City Walls, which we listened to on the drive home. (You can hear a bit on their website and view their other discography, too.)
It had been far too long since I saw a live concert, and I'm glad Rising Gael brought me back to the audience. As a band with lots of local focus, I hope to see them again.