The Led Farmers Bring Their Smart, High-Voltage Irish Sounds to NYC
Smart, propulsive Irish folk-rock band the Led Farmers make stop at Arlene’s at 10 PM tonight, Sept 10 at 10 PM; cover is $10. Isn’t it cool when a good out-of-town band gets a prime weekend slot at a Manhattan venue with a good sound system? Everybody wins. The venue gets to show off their good taste, the band gets exposure to a new crowd and you don’t have to drag yourself to deepest, creepiest Bushwick on Tuesday night at 11 PM where you’ll have to figure out how to get home on your own afterward because the trains have stopped running.
On one hand, every high-energy original Irish band is going to draw the obvious Pogues comparison. The Led Farmers distinguish themselves with their focus, and tightness, and their songwriting. Sure, their new album, Katie – which hasn’t hit Spotify yet, although there are some tracks up at the band’s music page – includes familiar, friendly favorites including a salute to Galway bay moonshine, an unexpectedly plaintive, spare version of The Foggy Dew, and a boisterous live take of the Irish Rover. But their own songs and instrumentals are the best part.
The album opens with the brisk, minor-key populist anthem Share the Wealth: “People with their cash must be smoking hard if they think we’re going quietly…let yourself be alone at last, put aside your technology,” the band encourages. And then scampering uilleann pipes break for the dancers pops up midway through. Brendan Walsh’s banjo spirals and spins and shoots off sparks over Seamus Walsh’s rich bed of guitars and the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist Ross O’Farrell and drummer Glenn Malone on the instrumental The White Set.
To Offer follows a brisk, mysterious, hardscrabble band-on-the-run narrative over similarly dynamic, unexpected changes. The deliciously spiky, bitingly ominous banjo/guitar textures as the hit single Row by Row gets going are worth the price of the album alone – and the song’s the mutedly sarcastic anti-prejudice message packs a similar wallop. Likewise, Star of the County Down rocks about as hard as an acoustic band possibly can: for all intents and purposes, it’s acoustic heavy metal. And the all-too-brief, feral, lickety-split banjo/guitar break midway through Thomas Jefferson is pure adrenaline.
The album’s most entertaining track is the instrumental Space, where the band makes it impossible to figure out what they’re going to hit with you next, especially when it takes a turn in a darker direction. The band winds it up with the vividly weary Raglan Road, just acoustic guitar and vocals. These guys are excellent musicians, strong singers and sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live. This is the point where music writers spin all kinds of cliches like good craic and raising a pint, but you can figure all that out by yourself and the band will help if you can’t. And you don’t have to drink or be Irish to like this stuff.