By Earle Hitchner
THE CHIEFTAINS and LOS LOBOS. At Prudential Hall, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, N.J., June 27.
With as many albums as years behind them (over 37), the multiple-Grammy-winning Chieftains remain the most popular Irish traditional act in the world. Their broad audience appeal was readily apparent this night at NJPAC, one of the metro area’s most beautiful and spectator-friendly venues, where the band gave a sharp, engrossing
performance in further support of their current, all-traditional album, "Water From the Well."
A medley of Donegal music, including "King of the Pipers" and "The Glen Road to Carrick," spotlighted the fiddling prowess of Seán Keane, who was joined toward the end by guest fiddler Máirín Fahy of Reeltime and "Riverdance" repute. Matt Molloy, who still defines the standard for Irish traditional flutists, delivered a similarly powerful solo on such tunes as "Dusty Miller," "Colonel Fraser," and "Dowd’s No. 9."
Singer Kevin Conneff was spellbinding in an unaccompanied solo of "The May Morning Dew," and he also led a spirited rendition of "An Poc Ar Buile." Yvonne McMahon, a guest vocalist from Dublin, gave somewhat
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static interpretations of "The Lowlands of Holland" and "I Know My Love." In contrast, the Chieftains sparkled through a set of polkas to which stepdancers Donny Golden and Sinéad Lawlor, along with Paul Keating and his stage partner, did some fine set-dancing.
Opening for the Chieftains were Los Lobos, an exciting band out of East L.A. who perform Cal-Mex music spiked with blues, country, and rock. Disappointingly, the rock side of their music was held at bay, perhaps in deference to the trad-playing Chieftains who followed them.
Still, there were a number of largely acoustic-treated songs from Los Lobos that stood out: "Canto de Vera Cruz," "One Time, One Night," and "Matter of Time." On this last song, ex-Blaster Steve Berlin cut loose on baritone sax while David Hildago memorably sang lead.
Los Lobos’ rendition of Pete Seeger’s song "Guantanamera" was, happily, light-years away from the faux-folk hit made of it by the Sandpipers in 1966. And toward the end of the concert, the band came out to join the Chieftains and other musical guests for a virtual sing-along of "Guadalupe," which Los Lobos had sung with Linda Ronstadt on the Chieftains’ 1996 album, "Santiago."
This brief bridging of traditions, Irish and Mexican, underscored not the dissected-to-death "rock-pop" proclivity of the Chieftains in past album collaborations but their genuine appreciation for the native music of other cultures. On this evening, it worked splendidly.