No band can distill 50 years into 95 minutes, but Wednesday night inside the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Chieftains had fun trying.
The stalwart traditional Irish band from Dublin is on the road celebrating its 50th anniversary. Its show in Helzberg Hall was sold out, according to Kauffman Center, and the audience received a whirlwind tour of a half-century of music that comprises more than three dozen recordings and includes collaborations with some of the biggest names in contemporary music.
Paddy Moloney, 73, is still the primary face and voice of the Chieftains, and he ran Wednesday’s show like both a proud curator and a humble creator of his band’s music and rich history. He is also its resident virtuoso on tin whistle and uilleann pipes. He was joined by fellow longtime Chieftains flutist Matt Molloy and vocalist Kevin Conneff, who played bodhrán and other percussion, and some guest musicians, including harpist Triona Marshall and fiddler Jon Pilatzke.
Two local ensembles were also invited to the party: eight young ladies from the O'Riada McCarty Manning Academy of Irish Dance and two-dozen members of the St. Andrew Pipes & Drums.
Before that, there was a tide of ballads, laments and anthems in several musical styles (bluegrass, blues, jazz/swing) and more dancing, from Pilatzke, his wife, Cara Butler, and his brother Nathan, who, at one point step-danced in unison while sitting down. The music included several instrumentals, including a couple of enchanting flute solos by Molloy; and the regal “March to Battle (Across the Rio Grande),” featuring the St. Andrew band. And there was Conneff’s celestial, a cappella rendition of “May Morning Dew.”
They honored some American traditions, dropping in bits of “The Wabash Cannonball” with “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” And they revisited their most popular album, “The Long Black Veil.” Moloney told his audience that one of that album’s guest vocalists, Sting, was supposed to join the Chieftains at the Kauffman Center but had to cancel at the last minute. Then they played “The Rocky Road To Dublin,” which featured the Rolling Stones on the album, dropping the signature riff to “Satisfaction” amid the flurry of fiddles and tin whistles.
There was no cake or singing of “happy anniversary,” but the night ended with a festive ritual: as the Chieftains and the St. Andrew band played another stately march and the rest of the audience stood and clapped, Butler led the O’Riada ladies and several members of the crowd in a lively snake dance into the seats and around the hall and back onto stage. One song can’t capture the essence of 50 years, but as much as any, that moment illustrated the enduring spirit shared by a band and its fans.