Seven years ago, I flipped the channel and fell in love with five Irish and Scottish singers.
Seven years is a long time to follow a musical show around... Lots of time to get bored and move on to something else Lots of time to realize you're a crazy person and you should probably do something about that-- and yet, seven years later, I find that I'm still a little bit in love.
I attended Celtic Thunder's "Very Best Of..." tour last night, and it was sort of like a surreal sort of time travel. They sang so many songs that I remember with fondness and nostalgia from the early days of Celtic Thunder --
But the players are better.
The players are a lot better and a lot stronger. Apparently, a singer can grow a lot in seven years.
The ensemble numbers were really fantastic. Most of them were signature "fun" pieces and were honestly just enjoyable and delightful. The last couple years, it seems like CT has done a lot to amp up the acting side of the ensembles, and that's very apparent in the numbers in this tour. Seven Drunken Nights -- oh my heaven!, Place in the Choir, Galway Girl...
I smiled. I smiled a lot. And laughed and clapped and just quite honestly enjoyed myself to the hilt.
Admittedly, Caledonia made me cry and seriously reconsider the choice to not wear waterproof mascara.
Keith Harkin was really good with Now We Are Free. Now, I don't normally like that song very much, but I quite enjoyed it last night. Really nice job. It was so so lovely to have Damian McGinty, our own little Hollywood star, back in the fold for a tour. From braces and teenage awkwardness to the deeper voice of the young man he's become, it was a joy to be able watch him perform again in this setting. I've always loved his Home, and last night was no exception -- only now he's graduated from his signature two singing expressions to a more varied performance. I don't know how thrilled he is to be singing songs he did when he was 16 years old, but Breaking Up is Hard to Do was hilarious. Kudos.
Emmett O'Hanlon, our newcomer, has such a beautiful voice. It is a voice made for "wow" songs and I can't wait to hear future shows where he's singing songs picked for him. I really loved his rendition of Remember Me; he very much did it justice and I was well-pleased. And belatedly, I realized that I was so focused and interested in his performance in That's a Woman that I totally missed my favorite part of Ryan's lines!
Colm Keegan is... oh let's be honest... I have a wee crush on Colm. Goodlooking, sweet as pie, adorable to the max, and does things personally that warms my heart. But, I'm not a rose-colored glasses fan anymore either, so I will tell you that when Colm came to the show, there were two areas that I hoped he would grow in. I wanted him to show me more of the emotion in a song -- I want to feel the song, not just hear it -- and I hoped he'd grow into a little more vocal strength. I was really pleased with him last night. Both things, yes yes yes. I love Black Velvet Band, always have -- but ah, I was entranced with Katie. (Also, he was in my Meet & Greet and makes me so twitterpated. Even if he can't spell.)
<<--- Neil Byrne... makes me happy. Like... just makes me happy. He is the smiley-est one of the bunch. It doesn't matter how many times you grin stupidly at him, he will nod and smile enthusiastically at you right back AND HE MAKES ME HAPPY. Truthfully, there was not enough Neil in this show and I wish we had more. But, I tell you what... Neil Byrne is comic genius. He is so funny... SO FUNNY. Like Seven Drunken Nights? I know that's an ensemble song, but Neil is so freaking funny that I don't even care about anyone else in it. It's all Neil and he makes me happy!!
Now Ryan Kelly... This section is a re-write. I originally wrote this review after seeing the show one time, and I came away from that performance just the slightest bit disgruntled about Ryan. Ryan's my favorite, and I didn't really want to say that -- so I wrote around him. I have learned in the many years that I've been penning my own little responses to Celtic Thunder that it is insanely easy to use a lot of pretty words... but end up saying nothing of substance. It sounds nice and complimentary... and maybe no one even notices... but you know that you haven't really said anything. You know that you've avoided saying what you really think. And that's what happened when I wrote about Ryan -- I've been meaning to rewrite this section for awhile with more honest thoughts... and so I finally am.
First, before the protective hounds come out... why did I feel disgruntled? It took me a long six-hour drive home to figure that out. One of my closest friends had seen the show a few days before I did, and had pretty well gushed over Ryan's performance -- about how well he performed, about how much he had grown, about how it was the best he'd ever sounded. So with that in my head, I sat in my seat with very high expectations... and when the concert was over, I didn't feel the same way. Please don't mistake.. he was good! But I didn't come away with feeling like he was so much more awesome than the last time I'd seen him perform... and so I felt a little disappointed. It took me the drive home to realize that my friend was comparing him to the last time she had seen CT live (2 years ago) and I was comparing him to the last time I had seen CT live (3 months earlier). Different comparison. And after finally figuring out the source of my disgruntlement, I was glad to have one more show to watch with more normal expectations.
Ryan was really good. It was like seeing Old School Ryan Kelly... but with a whole lot more confidence. He had great command of the stage, vocals never in question. And, for me, always enjoyable. This tour is very heavy on the Dark Destroyer... he seems to permeate much of the show somehow. And how you feel about that depends, in some ways, very much on how you feel about the Dark Destroyer.
I have a Love/Hate relationship with the Dark Destroyer. I was here for the beginning and was very taken in by him in the early days. That handsome leer is hard to resist, isn't it? And he's fun to watch... Ryan makes him fun to watch. But at the same time... as my years as a fan have gone on, there is a knowledge under the surface that the Dark Destroyer is kind of an ass, a guy who thinks turning on the charm will make up for the fact that he's a self-absorbed jerk.
I've realized of late, after seven years of being a devoted Ryan Kelly connoisseur, I really like Ryan best when he surprises me. Maybe that's a style I didn't know he could sing well... or a ballad that he brings a certain emotion to. And maybe I like him best, even though it's his signature character, when he is something besides the Dark Destroyer. I like seeing Ryan stretch.
So I enjoyed watching the performances he gave very much... It was a sweet sort of nostalgia. I'm kind of upset with him right now... but hopefully that will fade and I can go back to simply looking forward to the next new CT product... and the opportunity to see him surprise me once more.
Of course, the one thing is that we were missing George Donaldson. The group of guys sang Life With You, which was fun and sweet and a fitting tribute. It was more moments... in an ensemble song, a line would go by and the thought would flash, "This is George's line...." and my heart would briefly twinge in sadness. And that is life and loss.
Oh, the drum battle in Raggle Taggle Gypsy was fantastic, by the way. The new "I Can Play 47 Different Instruments" guy, whose name I didn't catch, is awesome!!
So that's my Best of Celtic Thunder tour take. May the Thunder roll on...