I have to admit, coming into the concert by Full Set on Monday, March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) I was a little jaded. In the past few months, I’ve covered at least 8 Irish/Celtic/Scottish style performances, all of them quite good. Another Irish band elicited something of an “OK…” expectation from me. Still, it was St. Paddy’s day, so I wore green and showed up ready to enjoy the music. (It should be noted that I do like Irish/Celtic music a lot, but just like I don’t eat pizza all the time, I prefer not to overdo any musical style.)
First let me say something many people already know: CSPS Hall is a perfect venue for Irish bands. It’s just the right size, and has just the right acoustics, to make the most of the music an Irish band typically produces. Good Irish bands-and Full Set is certainly one of them-are at their best in venues where the audience is close enough for the performers to smell the whiskey or beer on their breath! Such bands are about having a good time, and the performers appreciate knowing the audience is having a good time listening and dancing to their music.
That’s where Full Set perked me up and got me admiring their show. They produce good music, of course, but they add to it a down to earth banter that makes their show fun to watch and experience. Michael told some stories about their adventures on the current tour that, together with interjections by other band members, were simply hilarious. Full Set is a band that really engages the audience and makes them part of the show, and not just with the usual singalong or two. At the start of the second set, they invited questions from the audience, as well as taking some time to explain about some things about the Martino’s pipes and Janine’s accordion. They were very personable in their answers, even when someone asked Michael “Where are you guys so scruffy?”
That’s when I decided I really like watching Full Set perform live. I felt less like an audience member and more like a friend sitting in on one of their sessions in Limerick.
The members are all strong players: Andrew Meaney (Guitar) Eamon Moloney (Bodghran) Janine Redmon (Button Accordion) Martino Vacca (Uileann Pipe, Whistles) Michael Harrison (Fiddle) Teresa Horgan (Vocals, Flute). Martino and Michael are especially dazzling on pipes and fiddle respectively, playing off of each other in some dizzying riffs that had the audience shouting in appreciation. They offer an enjoyable range of instrumental and vocal tunes, both contemporary and traditional, even mixing it up a bit by throwing in Joseph Lamb’s “Reindeer Rag”.
Yes, that’s right: the pipes player for an Irish band is Italian. Wanna make something of it? The story is that Martino spent some time in Ireland, went to school there, and decided he liked the pipes enough to make a career of playing them. He made a wise choice, and I think in the future Irish music aficionados are going to be seeing Martino’s name among the elite of Irish pipers.
They infuse all their songs with a youthful energy that together with their stories and banter between songs, left me feeling like I was watching an up and coming alternative rock/pop band if not for their selection of songs. I think their youthful enthusiasm and somewhat whacky attitude adds a subtle energy to their music. The audience certainly enjoyed the show. When they decided to pay tribute to the American way of observing Saint Patrick’s Day by donning an assortment of goofy hats, wigs and other headgear, the fun factor definitely went up. Audience appreciation reached a peak when Eammon got up and danced across the stage on a couple of numbers. What is it about Bodhran players that also seems to make them good dancers?
Speaking of dancers: the band invited members of the McNulty School of Irish Dance here in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City to dance for a couple of songs. The audience certainly appreciated having local lasses participate in the show, and it served to further cement my feelings that the members of Full Set are “just plain folks” who happen to be masterful Irish musicians. The icing on the cake was after the show, when each member of the band came up to shake my hand and thank me for taking photos. I usually try to stay as low key and out of the way as possible taking after the show photos, but these guys and gals all wanted to make sure I knew they appreciated what I was doing.
It ended up being one of the most enjoyable Saint Patrick’s Days I’ve had in ages. I think everyone in the audience felt they got more than their money’s worth from a band that breathes a bit of fresh air into a popular musical genre.
I’m definitely looking forward to Full Set’s return to Cedar Rapids, hopefully in the not too distant future.