Thursday, March 8, saw the return of acclaimed Irish band Danú to the West Coast when the group took to the stage at UC Berkeley’s prestigious Zellerbach Hall. Irish born and raised, and a newcomer to the San Francisco Bay Area myself, I went along to the concert, as eager to check out the quality of the band itself as I was for a taste of home.
Danú didn’t disappoint in either regard.
A set of reels played at an eye-watering pace kicked off proceedings, and immediately, we in the audience were spellbound. Many Strings readers may be familiar with the group’s renowned fiddler, Oisín McAuley, and as the slight and unassuming man from County Donegal played such tunes as “The Highest Hill in Sligo” and “Lord Gordon’s Reel” with the speed of a man possessed and the attention to detail of one suffering from OCD, there could be no disputing whose fingers were the fastest in the West that night.
The energy was infectious—with some audience members visibly more susceptible than others. Before the second set of tunes was halfway through, one woman had taken to her feet and was giving it her all in the aisle, treating the rest of us to an interpretive dance I can only describe as Riverdance-meets-Hula.
More power to her, I couldn’t help but think . . . .
Humorous anecdotes and telling of the stories behind the songs (sung in English and Irish) peppered the set, and whether it was a heart-wrenching lament, or a toe-tapping jig, the standard of excellence never faltered. In addition to McAuley, singer and flautist Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh was another personal highlight, and I would defy anyone listening to her vocals on “The County Down” and “Farewell Farewell” not to feel a tug on the heartstrings for a person, place, or time now gone or simply missed.
Benny McCarthy on button accordion, Eamon Dooley on the Irish bouzouki, Donal Clancy on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Martin O’Neill on bodhran completed the lineup—each one brilliant in their own right.
With their casual dress, black curtain backdrop, and minimal stage set-up (just six chairs), Danú is not the visual spectacular of Riverdance—nor does it need to be. The undeniable talents of each of the six members, along with the humour and humility that is so synonymous with Ireland, come together in a live show experience that strikes the perfect balance between the energetic and atmospheric, empathetic and entertaining.
While I can’t guarantee that every Danú gig will come complete with spontaneous Irish dancing in the aisles, I can vouch for a live music experience that is impressive, immersive, and uniquely and unmistakeably Irish.
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