Blood or Whiskey – McGann’s, Boston MA (September 13, 2001)

After an INS hassle in late August, Ireland’s Blood or Whiskey managed to enter the States to bring their driving trad-Irish folk-punk to the pubs of the East Coast. The hijackers were yet new arrivals in Hell when Blood or Whiskey — encouraged by fans to press forward — played the famous McGann’s in Boston.

Allow me to quote myself from a Clancys review that appeared in the Boston Irish Reporter a few years back: “Tucked in a side street near the Fleet Center, McGann’s is a small Irish pub that books some great Irish music acts. Its walls are divided between red brick and yellow sheet rock, and they’re covered with framed photos of concerts past. The tables and the bar are smooth blond wood.” Huh — I forgot to mention that the bathrooms feature running water. A determined crowd of about 65 included members of Dropkick Murphys, Tommy & the Terrors, and the Lashes.

Blood or Whiskey are a skilled six-piece with drums, bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, bouzouki, and tin whistle. Sometimes switching to mandolin, the tin whistle player was an American stand-in — a portly fellow in an awesome Boston-Bruins-style Guinness jersey. Singer and bouzouki player Barney sometimes switched to accordion. They’re not much for onstage banter, but this band is an excellent throwback to Red Roses For Me acoustic punk. Barney’s ability to simultaneously pluck and growl intricate Irish melodies raises the bar for the genre. Drawing from both their studio albums as well as their repertoire of traditionals, the band cranked them out fast and tight, yet mellow and laid-back. Only guitarist/singer Dugs hollered and jumped around the stage. Their set was broken up with plenty of finely-cobbled instrumentals, like “King of the Fairies/Western Junk,” whose thudding bass and shrieking whistle conjured Paddy Garcia firing his pistol at the wild cats of Kilkenny. Other highlights were “Galway Town,” “Unfinished Business,” a super-fast rendition of “Kelly the Boy from Killane,” “Follow Me Up to Carlow,” and of course the very sensitive “You Can Keep the Baby, Baby.” They slowed it down for the glass-swaying “Sober Again.” And bassist Tom sang some of the ska and pop songs, like the self-proclaimed “cheesy” number “Chloe,” which Barney sheepishly introduced as having “bombed in the Irish charts.” The set clocked in at an hour and a half, as the lads finished strong with “Bucharest” and “Rudy.”

Abrasive or mellow? Blood or Whiskey sound rough, but they deliver one hell of a smooth buzz. May you have no excuse to miss ’em next time!

By Pat Kennedy

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