Music News & Reviews

Gimmicks, guest artists dilute the Chieftains’ concert at Helzberg Hall

Led by founding member Paddy Maloney (center), the longstanding Irish folk ensemble the Chieftains performed Wednesday night in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Led by founding member Paddy Maloney (center), the longstanding Irish folk ensemble the Chieftains performed Wednesday night in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Special to The Star

A dizzying mishmash of sights and sounds threatened to overwhelm an audience of more than 1,200 on Wednesday night at Helzberg Hall.

The most sublime moments of the Chieftains’ appearance were rhapsodic displays of instrumental mastery. Too often, however, the concert by the longstanding Irish folk ensemble resembled a tawdry revue in Branson, Mo.

A madcap array of guest artists and distracting gimmicks diluted the Chieftains’ powerful musicianship.

The Chieftains first performed at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in 2012, a year that marked the group’s 50th anniversary. Since then, two former members of the Chieftains have died.

The best selection performed Friday was a tribute to Seán Potts, a pennywhistle player who died last year. Each of seven members of the touring version of the Chieftains played respectful solos during the mournful lament. An unaccompanied statement on pennywhistle by Paddy Maloney, a founding member of the Chieftains and the band’s leader, was tear-inducing.

Two energetic dancers armed with taps on their shoes frequently frolicked across the stage. Their thunderous hoofing repeatedly drowned out the band. The delicate work of harpist Triona Marshall never stood a chance.

Kevin Conneff’s unaccompanied rendition of “The May Morning Dew,” consequently, served as a welcome respite from the occasional bouts of showbiz bluster. The plaintive voice of the percussionist lent the sad ballad an appropriately tragic air.

A version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” followed. The American folk song was transformed into an Irish hoedown. The selection exemplified the Chieftains’ commendably restless artistic spirit.

The unusual voice of the Scottish born Alyth McCormack lent an otherwise rigid version of “Raglan Road” a compelling flavor. Her vocal gymnastics on an exhibition of the Scottish “mouth music” tradition was also enchanting.

Six vocalists joined the Chieftains for a set of selections including “Shenandoah” and “Down in the River to Pray.” While accomplished, the sextet was obligated to follow arrangements that caused them to resemble an overly reverent church choir. Youth from an Irish dance troupe and a couple dozen pipers and drummers also paraded across the stage.

The screening of an amusing video featuring astronaut Catherine Coleman playing instruments lent by the Chieftains while in orbit further hindered the flow of the concert.

Slightly short of 90 minutes, the Chieftains’ outing was altogether too brief. And by attempting to please everyone, their show risked satisfying no one.

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