Despite owning several of their CDs for nearly two decades, I had never gotten around to seeing Black 47.When I heard, then, that the Irish expatriate rock 'n' rollers would be coming to my hometown of Englewood, NJ, as part of their farewell tour, the opportunity to catch them was too much to resist.
Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC) is a larger venue than Connolly’s of Times Square, where, holding court when not on tour, Black 47 built a rabid following among the Irish community. But the band did its best to turn venerable BergenPAC into the rowdiest of arenas, with songs that mixed rock, reggae, hip-hop, New Orleans modern jazz—and, of course, traditional Irish melodies. In one of the great rock 'n' roll paradoxes I can think of, this group--which takes its name from the worst year of the catastrophic Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century--leaves its listeners joyfully spent.
In a roof-raising performance, these talented musicians brought a number of audience members to their feet, dancing in the aisles. They drew on a wealth of material—not just a quarter century of material, but two new CDs: Last Call and Rise Up! With a shaman’s mesmeric power, frontman and songwriter Larry Kirwan delivered his unusually literate lyrics on heroes of Irish history (James Joyce, James Connolly and Michael Collins, the “Big Fellah”) with songs on contemporary topics that proudly proclaimed their progressive politics.
Speaking of the angry, abandoned Irishwoman who’s the subject of their song that gave them their first significant exposure, “Funky Ceili,” Kirwan joked, “I hope Bridie’s nowhere near Englewood.” Yet this northern New Jersey town was more than happy to host Black 47 in one of the last dates on its raucous last hurrah (timed to coincide with the group's 25th anniversary).
After mid-November, you can continue to catch the band’s past performances on the likes of Letterman, Leno and Conan O’Brien on YouTube or on their 2007 DVD release, The Story So Far.
But if you really want to hear them now, at the top of their game, with Gaelic force and fire, you owe it to yourself to consult their tour schedule and go now, before it all comes to an end in mid-November.