Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Young Dubliners: matured and unified

The band has ripened with time

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photo Young Dubliners. Get tickets by calling the Sun Valley Brewery at 788-0805.

I remember the first time I realized that St. Paddy's Day was not all about the shamrock pins and stripy socks we got to wear with our Catholic school uniforms for the week before March 17 every year. My middle school was across the road from one of the most popular authentic Irish pubs in Houston. Don't judge—Houston's strength is not in its zoning laws.

Anyway, from the schoolyard, I would watch the parade of people most detectably not Irish, gathering in the sweltering heat of spring in a hot asphalt parking lot demarcated with green tinsel. Mingling became more purposeful with each green beer refill. Lots of high fives for stealing away from work to get a jump on what would inevitably be a party deep into the next morning. Still, no real unity.

And then, sometime in the early afternoon, the band would arrive and the crowd would become one, spinning, stomping and shouting along with the spirited Irish rock, ballads and laments.

The sounds of revelry drifted across and into our school's open windows, grabbing hold of and stirring my Irish soul. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with St. Paddy's Day celebrations, which were celebrated with such zeal that once a year was more than enough.

I'm not going to lie—I drank a lot of green beer, sipped my share of Irish whiskey, fueled by the naughtiness of it, but it was the music and the company it kept that made it all so attractive to me.

Today, as a mom, I'm back to the shamrock pins and stripy socks. And as I am prone to temptation and longing, I don't even break out my Chieftans records much anymore lest I run away from home. Well, that and if it's not on the Disney channel, I have a hard time convincing my 8-year-olds that it's worth listening to.

I was already trying to ignore the allure of Mardi Gras with all its trappings and trickery serving up milk and King Cake to the kids when I learned that an old neglected fave from The Irish Times in D.C., Young Dubliners, was coming to town.

They've been together since 1988, when two lads from Dublin, Keith Roberts and Paul O'Toole, moved to Los Angeles and started a band. Their growing mass of diehard fans gave them their name.

"It made sense at the time," said Roberts, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist. "Had I known then that we'd have such longevity and would still be out doing 180 to 250 shows a year, I probably would have come up with a different name. When people say we're no longer so young, I reply, 'Well, the Fine Young Cannibals never ate anyone.' The cool thing is, we've stayed young at heart, doing our best to grow into the name rather than let the name grow out of us."

With eight albums, an international tour circuit, play on Pandora and Jango satellite radio, the Young Dubliners have stood out from the crowd for their polished songwriting and feisty sound.

Roberts credits the eclectic backgrounds of the Irish and American natives that comprise the group.

"I like to think that our take on songwriting and performance makes the Young Dubliners' sound unique and original. Our strength is in the sum of our parts. We play as a band, as one."

< Immersing myself in the sweet intoxication of their music the past few days has taken me back, made me put in long-overdue phone calls to the friends that I used to dance the night away with in my younger days.

And that's reason enough to try on the Young Dubliners—it's a reason to celebrate kinship.

It was lyrics from their latest album, Saints and Sinners, that rounded out the sentiment for me:

For all of our wars, what have we won? We drank up the world. Now that we're done,where can we go? What have we left? A big empty shell in a big empty nest. Please don't run, don't turn away, children's eyes beg us to stay. This time no more strangers, only a friend, we'll all go together in the end. "In the End."

I had a nice reminisce too with Roberts last week. He's the only member left from the original band. Suffice to say, I'm working on a babysitter for Sunday, March 4, when the band takes over the Sun Valley Brewery in Hailey on its '"March to St. Patrick's Day'" tour. And if there's no Arts section the following Wednesday, you'll know I've run off with the band ... again.

You may no longer be the young Young Dubliners, but has there been some advantages in maturity?

Like a good red wine, we get better with age. And if we suddenly peak before you've opened the wine, then just pour us after the guests have already had a few bottles and we'll still seem very good! But no plans to "peak" anytime soon.

What's a tough gig sound or feel like?

Tough! There are many reasons a gig can be tough. S----y crowd, feeling sick, attitude a little '"too adjusted" prior to show, but all shows usually ease once you get into them.

Are true traveling Irish/American bands unusual? Does your niche in music keep you always in style? Or are you challenged to continue to morph?

We always challenge ourselves. We want to keep being relevant and turning out good music. We never back down on that or just coast. However, the genre allows us to take chances and experiment a lot as we are not tied down to any style, really.

Can you feel the differences, good and bad, in starting to be independent? Can you explain why it's preferable and do you think this is a trend for artists that will continue?

I think it's particularly timely for us. We've been signed for many years and have eight albums released on labels. There comes a time when you really know what you like and how you want your music to be presented and marketed. It's very hard to find a label that agrees 100 percent with you—they all think they know best, which is why they started labels, I guess. We just feel that we actually know best this time. So far it has been brilliant, lots more turns in the road ahead, though so time will tell. I think it is definitely becoming more popular, especially if you already have a fan base and you know how to reach them.

You need 40K to produce a new record? We're you that conscious of the financials when you were with a label?

I think I was, but it was very hard to get straight answers on money. You know that there's "never enough" to do the things you think will make the difference and that was always hard to hear. It's easier this way, I believe.

Do you like it when people sing along, or is that a drag?

It's brilliant. Possibly the greatest feeling a songwriter can have.

Anybody that should not come see you in Hailey?

If you absolutely do not want to feel good and have a blast, then do not come!

Get your arses out to the show and let loose.

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