As we sat in the old pews on Saturday night, waiting for the show to start, my dad leaned over to me and asked, "Do you think those work?"
Behind the stage, there was a beautiful old organ with pipes to the ceiling. I shrugged, "Beats me!!"
We would find out.
We were in Portland, Oregon at The Old Church concert venue, waiting to see Byrne and Kelly perform the second show of their 2015 tour. It was the first time I'd brought my dad to a show of theirs and I was both excited to see it with him and thrilled to soak up the music of a few of my favorite musicians.
Byrne and Kelly is headlined by Celtic Thunder's Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly, both stellar vocalists. Last year, they added violinist Nicole Hudson and player-of-87-instruments Peter Sheridan. This year is actually the first time I've seen them in person since they had moved to the fuller band, and oh was I pleased! Nicole is an amazing musician and added so much beauty to the music -- and I loved the addition of Peter just as much. Every time I looked over, he seemed to be playing something else.
Also, I sort of adored and coveted his hat.
Full Disclosure: I have been following Ryan and Neil for a long time. I am passionate, invested, and have great love and hope for them as musicians. But following them for a long time also means that I was there when they were feeling their way, trying things out, making mistakes... and I've seen how much they've grown as musicians, as vocalists, as music arrangers (is there a cooler word for that?), as songwriters. And it's a lot. It's true that they get better and better every time they come out on tour, and this weekend, they were earnestly the best I'd ever seen them.
The setlist for this year's show (which will follow later) is a balanced mix of upbeat fun songs that showcase their personalities and slower pieces that really worked to show off their individual voices. One of the things that I've always found to be a particular strength of these two performers is the quality of their vocal blend. They are both powerful vocalists on their own -- but they blend really nicely. Their harmony is beautiful... and you just want to sit as still as you can, close your eyes, and let the sounds wash over you.
Course, you miss the man pretty that way.
Beautiful Affair, also from their first album, is a song that I have consistently ranked in my list of ABSOLUTE FAVORITES ever since I first heard it, and I still haven't moved it. This is particularly the song where I don't want to move, lest it mess with the pristine beauty of the harmonies in any way. Just lovely. I was especially impressed and taken with Neil in both On Raglan Road (so beautiful and poetic!) and The Water is Wide. I really thought that they were beautiful songs that really showcased the strength of his voice.
One that I really enjoyed a lot was Down in the River to Pray. This was done as an ensemble song, acappella, with all four voices -- and truly, it was lovely. Both of the venues I saw them in this weekend were old churches, and so they seemed particularly appropriate to the setting. It was just beautiful.
I am pleased to see that Byrne and Kelly are moving further and further away from Celtic Thunder music. It's not that I don't like Celtic Thunder music -- but it delights me that Ryan and Neil have developed enough of their own material in their own style that they don't need it. Ryan does sing both Ride On and Black is the Colour, which have both garnered him much delight in Celtic Thunder, but in such less disco-fied versions that they don't really even seem like the same songs. I have "BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL" scribbled all over my notes... so... they were pretty alright. Black is the Colour especially was such a lovely and touching demonstration of Ryan's vocal power. I'd listen to that again.
And as the concert drew to a close, and the final song of the main set was upon us, the beautiful sounds of that gorgeous church organ filled the room. I grinned at my dad and said, "I guess it works!" Tom Petty's Free Fallin' on the organ? Pretty darned awesome.
Normally, when I write these reviews, I really try to be honest. I try to be balanced. I try to be upfront about the things I loved, but honest about the things that I didn't. But honestly? This time, there really wasn't much that went into the second category. There's maybe one song in their setlist that really isn't my favorite... but the rest, I was really very happy and taken with.
I can't end without saying something about Neil on the guitar. Wow. That's all. Just wow. Actually, I think I'm going to write this just to Neil. Neil, I love Brad Paisley. And I love going to Brad Paisley concerts JUST to so I can watch him play guitar solos. -- No one is going to complain if you just go to town on your guitar for five minutes at a time. One of the reasons I love B&K shows is that I can watch you do that... Please don't feel like you need to skimp. You. Rock. Love, Me
Okay, I think I've said everything I want to say. I had a wonderful time. I soaked up the music as deeply as I could. I left very happy... but wistful that I couldn't see it yet again. If you can catch them on their tour... do it. They are so lovely and you won't be sorry. (Tickets here!!)
Set List (give or take one I missed)
Where the Streets Have no Name
Step It Out, Mary
Rock n Roll Kids
Back Home in Derry
Saints and Sinners
On Raglan Road
Black is the Colour
The Water is Wide
Down in the River to Pray
Land Down Under
Home from Home (encore)