Singer and guitarist Davy Carton says there’s a reason for the band’s upcountry detour. The Irish rockers, known for irreverent hits like “Useta Love Her” and “Bless Me Father,” have fond memories of a show they played at the Lebanon Opera House two years ago.
“The sound in the room was just amazing, we could hear everything,” Carton said on the phone from Ireland last Tuesday. “The sound was absolutely unique, it was one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. We were enjoying it hugely, the audience got up and enjoyed it; they were buzzing on the good sound.”
“We typically play in stand-up, dirty black rock clubs,” said Carton. “We generally don’t play sit-down shows at all, and rarely in theatres.”
“It also helped that there was a very friendly bar across the road from it, the Salt Hill bar I think it’s called,” Carton says. “The man there looked after us really well last time. Sometimes they can mess you around, they give you food and drink, but they want to take your picture and the like. But this man was genuinely nice, and we have good memories of it.”
For Salt hill Pub proprietors Josh and Joe Tuohy, the feeling was apparently mutual. The Lebanon restaurant is underwriting this year’s Opera House show.
The Saw Doctors sound is often called Celtic rock, a term they consider a misnomer. “It’s rock and roll with an Irish tinge,” he says. “We don’t do jigs and reels. We sing the way we talk, so you know we’re Irish. But we’ll have an accordion on stage in the same way The Band has one.”
Think of it as brogue-inflected Americana. Carton cites Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and the Ramones as key influences. “We’re trying to write songs for the next album like classic Creedence Clearwater Revival.”
Over a 20-year career, the Saw Doctors have released six studio albums, and are working on a seventh, which they hope to release in early 2008.
One tune that will probably make it to the record is “Ivana In The Brogue,” a bouncy love ditty about a bar patron’s infatuation with a Polish emigrant. Songwriter and band co-founder Leo Moran’s clever wordplay is at work, rhyming “dance “ with “Gdansk.” and describing the girl as “a cross between Maria Sharapova and Kylie Minogue,” perhaps so the comparison rhymes with “brogue.”
Over the years, the band has cultivated an enthusiastic fan base in the region. In western Massachusetts, they began in the 150-seat Iron Horse Music Hall; now they appear at the Calvin Theatre, which seats 1300. This year, they’ve scaled back their usually rigorous touring schedule to work on the new record,
This is the band’s 14th consecutive St. Patrick’s Day visit to the U.S. Promoters and agents have figured out that Americans celebrate the holiday with more vigor than the Irish. Back home, says Carton, “it’s a day off, and there’s a good lot of drinking, maybe a couple of football matches,” and not much more.
“But we’d go to America and there’s this big exaggerated Irish thing. That was foreign for us,” he says. Strangely enough, says Carton, “the Irish are now imitating the Americans. There are parades and three-day festivals. The razzmatazz has seeped over to Ireland. It wasn’t there 15 years ago.”
Occasionally, the green-toned merriment backfires on the band. One recent St. Patrick’s Day, they sold out a New York show, but ended up performing for a half-full house. “People got too pissed (drunk) during the day and didn’t come to the concert, even though they’d bought the tickets,” laughs Carton.
Despite the city’s famous tradition of dying the river green for St. Patrick’s Day, he doesn’t think that will happen this year in Chicago; the Saw Doctors play the Old Vic Theatre March 17. “We’ve always found a very musical audience in Chicago,” says Carton. “We tend to get very hardcore fans, and the venue is a real rock and roll theatre. I think it will be a great gig, and the fans there will be coming for the Saw Doctors, not St. Patrick’s Day.”