by Michael Caruso
Once again the weather had its way with another Pastorius Park concert. The John Byrne Band’s July 16 performance was driven indoors to the lower school auditorium of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. At least this time around, the predicted torrential downpour actually did occur, so the concert’s organizer, the Chestnut Hill Community Association, and its sponsor, Chestnut Hill Hospital, deserve credit for having made the correct decision earlier in the afternoon.
Also deserving praise were the many Chestnut Hillers who decided to make the best of the situation and attend the indoor performance. On most occasions whenever a concert has been moved indoors, the number of attendees has been small compared to the number of people hearing a concert outdoors in the park. And that’s understandable. The performances are almost always more enjoyable outside than they are inside.
Not this time around. The crowd was large and enthusiastic, and it was rewarded with a well-conceived and excellently rendered program of Irish and Celtic tunes.
John Byrne was the main reason for the concert’s success. His voice is a tad rough-edged, so his interpretations aren’t delivered as beautiful singing. He doesn’t possess an amazing technique of breath control, so his phrasing tends to be short and precise rather than long and lyrical. Melodies are only rarely highly decorated, so there’s not a lot of thematic transformation.
When he plays the guitar while he’s singing, there’s nothing particularly special about the playing other than that it accompanies his vocals simply and effectively without fuss or bother. His diction is sufficiently clear to guarantee that you understand the lyrics of the songs, yet there’s no particularly remarkable manipulation of the sound of the words.
And yet, I got the feeling last Wednesday evening that Byrne understood both the immediate, external meaning as well as the less obvious, more profound intention of the emotions behind every word and its subsequent note because he had entered into the world of those lyrics and has personally lived them.
I was deeply impressed by a song Byrne sang toward the end of the concert called (I think) “Seaside Town.” In it he captured a sad, melancholy nostalgia worthy of Tennessee Williams in “The Glass Menagerie” or Marcel Proust in “Remembrance of Things Past.” Nothing fancy. Nothing rhetorical. It was just sweetly poetic and came directly from the heart through simple singing of honest revelation.