by Michael Caruso
For the second week in a row, the weather dealt a blow of bad luck to the organizers of the summer concert series in Chestnut Hill’s Pastorius Park. The July 15 concert by the John Byrne Band was moved inside to the Cherokee Street auditorium of the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy due to inclement weather. But, just as it turned out the week before with Jesse Ruben, the change-of-venue gave as many pluses as it did minuses, with Byrne able to focus his and the band’s singing and playing on each individual member of the audience.
Showing a humorous command over the situation, Byrne pointed out a difference between his hometown, Dublin, and Chestnut Hill with the observation: “If we cancelled events in Ireland because of the weather, we wouldn’t be able to do anything outside at all — ever.” And yet, Byrne and his band-mates managed the switch without losing a beat, a word or a note. Joining Byrne on vocals, guitar and bodhran (a traditional Celtic frame drum), were fellow musicians Walt Epting on drums; Vince Tampio on bass and trumpet; Maura Dwyer on fiddle and cello; Rob Shaffer on banjo and guitars; and Dorie Byrne on accordion and trombone.
Byrne and his Band projected their own distinctive take on the classic sound of an Irish band in a repertoire of songs that was both traditional and contemporary. He displayed an admirable flexibility throughout his range, both in pitch and dynamics, and maintained a precision of diction that never muffled or covered a single word of each song’s lyrics.
This talent proved exceedingly important because all of the songs Byrne sang were true ballads. Each one set a specific tone by establishing its unique time and place and then inviting the listener into the world of each song. Through carefully calibrated changes of color and modulation, of tempo and rhythm, Byrne opened up a miniature piece of theater from within every song.
Byrne’s Band gave him unimpeachable support. The variety of sounds coming from so small a number of musicians was astounding. You would have thought he had an orchestra behind him. And yet, the overall sound was never overpowering. From the most gentle of love songs through the most revealing observations to numbers that made you want to get up and dance, John Byrne and his Band gave a splendid performance that showed the breadth and depth of Irish music.