Review of concert at 1999-06-26: NYC, Randall's Island (Fleadh Festival)
Newsday, 1999-06-28
- Stephen Williams


Fleadh: Grin and Beer It / Eleven-hour music marathon is a hot
time at Randall's Island
BY:  By Stephen Williams. STAFF WRITER
DATE:  06-28-1999

MUSIC REVIEW THE GUINNESS FLEADH. A full day of Irish and not-so-Irish music at what is becoming an annual summer event. Saturday from noon til 11 at Randall's Island, Manhattan.

PERHAPS IT WAS fitting at an event sponsored by Guinness that the only air-conditioned facility on Randall's Island on Saturday was a men's restroom. Judging from the queues at that particular station-a longer line of men than women, almost unheard of at a rock show-the stout and lager were flowing freely. And the music was flowing for hours as well, from Shawn Mullins just after noon through Lucinda Williams at midday, from John Prine at the cocktail hour through Hootie & the Blowfish to Elvis Costello and Moxy Fruvous. Relentless heat didn't impair the thousands who sought refreshment in the suds. (Perhaps they were making up for last year's torrential rains.) A new setup graced the one-day festival this year: The concrete amphitheater on the island was locked, and a main stage was built on the fairground near the stadium. There were no seats available and precious little shade, but the staff did offer to hose down anyone who requested a dousing of water. Where do you start to write about 11 hours of music and nearly three dozen acts? At the end.

Costello, accompanied on stage only by keyboardist Steve Nieve and his oversized dark suit, reached way back in the repertoire to fashion a one-hour set that was both serious and seductive. "Less Than Zero" and "Watching the Detectives" were part of the package, along with "Veronica" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Matching chords and notes on guitar and piano, the two longtime collaborators played as if they were reading each other's mind. Costello, supremely self- confident, stripped down and streamlined all the music, which is no risk at all when the songs are as strong and literate as his are. Near the end he did "Uncomplicated," with one of his best lyrics: "With you over me/There's no one above you."

Richard Thompson is English, not Irish, but no one was counting in front of the VH-1 stage, from which he played a rousing 50-minute set of mainly material from a forthcoming album. "Persuasion" is a gorgeous ballad with words by Neil and Tim Finn, and it was sung eloquently by Thompson and his son Teddy. "Hard On Me" is a brittle, brilliant poem that could've been left over from his "Shoot Out the Lights" album. One of the joys of the Fleadh is when you're wandering to a stage and you pass by another and the music draws you in. It was a primitive, aggressive sound coming from the Village Voice tent and a band called Kila. It has seven official members, but at various times there were more on stage. The place was a sauna, it smelled of beer and cigarettes, and Kila was driving up the temperature, led by Lance Hogan's percussion. One to watch. Plenty of other rich Irish music was on hand. Altan, a well-traveled band of fiddlers and vocalists, was spiritually invigorating, and a low-key setup for the high-strung Saw Doctors, who followed Altan on the main stage at dinnertime. Pretty much a required presence at Irish rock fests, the group lifted off with "The Green and Red of Mayo" and followed through with plenty of nationalistic frenzy. Some eavesdropping from musicians I was only able to visit briefly: John Prine, pouring sweat, singing his radiant "Angel from Montgomery"; the Candy Butchers performing a faux-Beatle brand of pop, and sounding mostly like Marshall Crenshaw; ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan slobbering though "Dirty Old Town" as his set-and the evening -ended. It was a fitting ode to an overrun island.

ILLUSTRATION/PHOTO: Photo by Jennifer Shea - Elvis Costello provided Fleadh fans with an entertaining one-hour set, as he matched notes brilliantly with keyboardist Steve Nieve.