The celebrated Irish traditional band Altan played Friday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a pre-St. Patrick’s Day concert that thrilled a large crowd filled with a devoted following. The concert, which was part of an almost four-week U.S. tour, marked the band’s 25th anniversary.
Fiddler/vocalist and co-founder Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, fiddler Ciaran Tourish, bouzouki player Ciaran Curran, accordionist Dermot Byrne and guitarist/vocalist Daithi Sproule, who is the only band member who lives in America, have accumulated high honors over the years ranging from having an official Irish postage stamp and making very successful world tours to playing for presidents and selling thousands of recordings. The fame is well deserved.
Based just on Friday night’s performance, the band produced a robust sound with energy levels that never slackened. The band’s high level of technical expertise and the players’ delightfully thick brogue allowed them to create an illusory atmosphere redolent of the best Irish pubs.
Many of the tunes they played came from Donegal — even Altan is the name of a mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in Donegal. Some tunes band members wrote. Reels and jigs predominated with their traditional style of repetitive motifs that tend to hypnotize before they all suddenly end. Sometimes they started slowly and then picked up steam and volume. This caused audience members to stamp their feet and clap their hands in time. Most tunes, especially the very quick ones, got delighted whoops and loud applause. These instrumentals included “Highland Man,” “Cliffs of Glen,” “Old Cuffe Street,” “Silver Slipper,” “The Roseville” and “Danny Meehans.”
When Mhaonaigh sang, she told funny anecdotes as to where she found the song. Although everyone was miked, Mhaonaigh managed to alter the quality of her voice to suit the songs, which were all strophic (different lyrics, same music) and often in Gaelic. For “As I Roved Out,” her voice was a light soprano. In “A Love Song,” it was like a dramatic clarion. Her “I Wish My Love Was a Red, Red Rose” with Sproule was a sweet ballad. Sproule also sang a few, which he wrote. They were sunny with discernible melodies filagreed with traditional ornamentation.
In the second half, they opened with “Is the Big Man Within?” and “Tilly Finn’s” in which Byrne was especially hot. “Dark Haired Lass” got audience members dancing in the aisles. “Come ye by Atholl” was followed with each member taking a solo. Byrne’s and Mhaonaigh’s solos got wild applause.
The show ended with several reels in which sparks flew, followed by a fast song for an encore.