The Peelers – live at The Celtic Ray Public House, Punta Gorda, Fl (August 9, 2003)

To the Peelers’ credit, they had just arrived in town a couple hours prior to the show after an eight-hour drive from Savannah, Ga., and went on to play nearly FOUR FREAKING HOURS (admittedly, with a couple of short breaks thrown in, but still!).

First, a bit about the venue. The Celtic Ray Public House — by the time you read this, management may have already completely split off the music room into a separate smoking bar called the Temple Bar Public House — is a small pub in Punta Gorda, Fla., which is about 90 minutes south of Tampa. It serves no domestic beer (!) and has the feel of a country pub in Ireland. It’s not a huge room, and the pub has traditional Irish music a few nights a week.

That said, The Peelers were a bit of a departure for the pub. It was only the second time it’s charged a cover for an event (the first was Black 47 in February), and owner Kevin Doyle was a little apprehensive about bringing in a band that was a large unknown.

(As the show approached, many friends from the pub were calling me “The Guy Who Brought The Peelers To The Celtic Ray,” as I had played a limited role as a matchmaker between the band and the pub. A lot of people asked me about the band, whom I’d never seen live before. I merely told them, I’d just heard their CD, which was very good, but I had very high expectations for their live show. I was nervous as an expectant dad.)

The Peelers, making their Florida debut, were also a little nervous. “We really didn’t know what to expect,” said lead singer Dave Barton. “We didn’t know whether to expect a young audience or old. A lot of these southern cities are known for older crowds.” They needn’t have worried. The band drew enough people of a variety of ages to make the room comfortably crowded. If the crowd was a little tentative as the show started, so was the band, which started at about 9:40 p.m. with no opening act to warm up the crowd.

If the band has a weakness (if you want to call it that) at this point, it’s their limited amount of original material, which I’ll go into later. They started with The Waterboys’ “Bang on the Ear” — halfway through, Kevin yelled out, “I fucking love these guys already!” A look around the room indicated this was a common theme. They opened with a set of standards, including “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Dirty Old Town,” and threw in a version of the “Broad Majestic Shannon” — the first of several Pogues songs that was played that night. They also did a song from their upcoming CD “Plastic Paddy” that I did not recognize or know the name of.

As the night grew longer, the crowd got younger, the Peelers got faster. They did their versions of “Irish Rover” (obviously minus Ol’ Jimmy of Siobhan, who guested for the song on their CD), Flogging Molly’s “Salty Dog” and allowed me to go up with them and do “Streams of Whiskey” (which I’d wanted to sing with a live band for a long time). The band also let Leslie, Kevin’s girlfriend, sing on a well-received version of “Fairytale of New York.”

All hell broke loose toward the end, with a mosh pit erupted in this small Irish pub, much to the delight of those that stayed until the last. A few people got knocked into a table near the stage with fish and chips for the band, and the fish went flying. They finished with some Clash songs — “London Calling” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” to a rousing, rowdy ovation.

“I thought at first, they (the crowd) was a little reserved. We were a little unsure where to go with the whole thing,” Barton said after the show. “In the end, it turned out to be a Peelers show.”

One could dismiss the Peelers as a cover band (which is how one newspaper alluded to them) if you wanted to look at it that way, as they’re still working on a repartory of original stuff. (Then again, when the Pogues were in their infancy, they did a lot of Dubliners stuff and traditional tunes, not to compare the two.)

I just look at The Peelers as a smoking live band. My body is still stiff from all the dancing/moshing that erupted toward the end. And I have no doubt that their original stuff, as it comes, will be fine, too. As a side note, they are really cool guys.

There’s a strong rumor that The Peelers will be coming back at some point. (“As soon as possible,” Kevin told me. “If they’re available, next week.”) They may have also opened the door for other bands of that ilk for the Celtic Ray, oops, sorry, Temple Bar. (I REALLY hope so.)

When The Peelers make their return appearance to Punta Gorda, I can’t freaking wait. And from the feedback I’ve received since the show, I know I won’t be the only one.

Review by Rob Shore

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