Black 47, with the Ogham Stones
at Tellus360,
Lancaster, Pa. (28 February 2014)

Two months ago, it was a big room filled with antiques and wood crafts.

Now, the back room at Tellus360, downtown Lancaster's newest Irish pub, has been converted to an airy venue, with a big stage and folding chairs, arty wooden high-top tables and a temporary bar that sells bottles, but no pints. (No worries, you can still hike to the bar up front for a cold glass of Smithwick's.)

Newly opened and boasting an impressive list of coming attractions, the room had a brilliant christening party on the last day of February 2014. The headliner was Black 47, a New York-Irish punk-inflected and reggae-influenced rock band that has been rattling the boards for a quarter-century.

Black 47, still led by an aging but elfin Larry Kirwan, is rolling across the country on its final tour before disbanding in November. On Tuesday, they also brought along copies of their new CD, aptly titled Last Call, which had only arrived in their hands that morning.

First up, however, was Lancaster's own Ogham Stones, a hard-rockin' seven-piece Celtic rock band led by John Flavin.

Loud and aggressive -- and fresh from recent performances at the Rose & Shamrock and the Roots & Blues festivals in Lancaster -- the Ogham Stones derive their pugnacious sound from traditional Irish music soaked in the Pogues and inspired by southcentral Pennsylvania's own Kilmaine Saints.

Besides Flavin on vocals and bodhran, the Ogham Stones are Neal Kreider on bass, James Lipka on guitar, Shawn O'Neal on drums, Amanda Paveglio on bagpipes, whistle, accordion and vocals, Mollie Swartz on fiddle and vocals, and Matt Underhill on guitar, mandolin and banjo.

So fully did they rile up the crowd, they were invited back for a post-Black 47 show in the front room later in the evening.

And then Black 47 was on the stage, with Irish-born singer/guitarist Kirwan fronting the band he co-founded back in 1989. With him were longtime compatriots Geoffrey Blythe on saxophones, Joe Burcaw on bass, Thomas Hamlin on drums, Joseph Mulvanerty on uilleann pipes, flute and bodhran, and Fred Parcells on trombone and whistle.

The show launched with "Green Suede Shoes," a Black 47 classic, followed shortly by "Big Fellah" (about Michael Collins) and the Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds" and its inevitable follow-up, "Desperate." There were tracks from the new album, such as "Culchie Prince," "The Night The Showbands Died" and "Johnny Comes a-Courtin'," and more old faves including "Rockin' the Bronx," "James Connolly" and "40 Shades of Blue."

There was a broad range of ages in the audience tonight, and the dance floor quickly filled. Kirwan, himself recently turned 65, managed to look both his age and impossibly young at the same time. The glee on his face as he performed was a delight all in itself.

Close your eyes, and this band sounded as fresh as they did in the 1990s.

As the evening drew to a close, Paveglio joined the band onstage to add raucous vocals and sporran shaking to "Livin' in America," and O'Neal took her place for "Funky Ceili." It wasn't enough, though -- Black 47 was brought back for an encore that included "I Got Laid on James Joyce's Grave," the Doors' "Gloria" and Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)."

It was a hell of a concert, and my ears were ringing by its end. Wait, it's not over; I got to chat with Kirwan while picking up a copy of the band's new CD -- we reminisced about a show I saw in Connecticut 14 years prior where the sound and lights kept shutting down -- and then there was more Ogham Stones to put a cap on the night.

by Tom Knapp
15 March 2014