Review of concert at 1999-06-05 - San Francisco, CA, Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park (Fleadh Festival)
CDnow, 1999-06-07
- James Goldman


Guinness Fleadh Satisfied In San Francisco

June 7, 1999, 12:05 pm PT

 This weekend's opening of the Fleadh festival was filled with as much fog in its participants as it had blowing through Golden Gate Park's Polo Fields.

More prominent than the chilly mist that blocked out the sun for most of the afternoon on Saturday (June 5) was a more cheerful fog of an audience lulled by some thick stout, heartfelt performances, and a mellowed attitude born from years of concert-going. A well-mannered group of 30- to 70-year-olds showed enthusiasm by their continued willingness to brave the elements of a cold San Francisco summer day, dig into the moist lawn with their blankets and barbecue, and dance and sing along with artists with whom they had grown up and to whom they were just exposed.

The festival producers were able to create a county-fair type atmosphere that was comfortably fitting given the crowd it attracted. They did this by setting up a three-stage event that had people meandering between sets by spoken word artists, cult folk artists like John Prine, and of course, headliners Elvis Costello and Van Morrison.

While inspired and memorable performances were handed in by the likes of Dave Alvin and the Saw Doctors, the biggest moments of the day were reserved for the top of the bill. Costello performed a stripped-down set, accompanied only by his guitar and pianist Steve Nieve from the Attractions. Besides standards like "Oliver's Army," "Everyday I Write the Book," and Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding," Costello charmed concert-goers with covers of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and a snippet of Duran Duran's "Rio."

If Costello's minimalism was about the man, Morrison was about the band. He is the meticulous leader of a clean, delightfully tight seven-piece unit. They meandered between solos in a fashion more fitting a bebop jazz outfit than a rock legend. As is his normal style, Morrison mixed his new material with standbys like "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When I'm with You)" and "Gloria," as well as jamming covers of Ray Charles and James Brown songs.

With its heavy ticket prices and heavier beverage prices, Fleadh had to provide quite a bit of entertainment to justify the eight-hour commitment. Based on the blissed-out looks of satisfaction on the audience members' faces as they strolled leisurely through the park on their way home, it's safe to say everyone got their money's worth. Even the fog gave the whole day an appropriately Irish feel.

-- James Goldman

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