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Sometimes, what you were creating no longer becomes a part of the cultural zeitgeist; other times, the trials and tribulations associated with said fame, become too much of a burden but can also lead to other, perhaps unrealized and more fulfilling avenues. In the case of Irish rock band, Hothouse Flowers, the ‘business’ part of the ‘music business’ eventually became too cumbersome, causing them to step back and re-evaluate their true goals in making music.
For lead singer, Liam Ó Maonlaí, it meant getting closer to his Irish roots, releasing traditional folk music in his native tongue, and occasionally getting back on the road, with a rare and short-notice appearance Sunday night, at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.
The Dubliner had already booked a handful of gigs in Montana and decided to take advantage of his stopover, by playing a two-set solo exploration of both traditional and contemporary Irish music, in an appearance only announced a few days prior.
Ó Maonlaí and mates had formed Hothouse Flowers in the mid-80’s, traveled around the world, were signed to U2’s record label, and had some chart success, before the rigors of the business had caught up with them, resulting in a more sporadic output and Ó Maonlaí also embarking on a solo career. He had learned traditional Irish (Gaelic) through song growing up, and has returned to that tradition in folk solo albums, Rian and To Be Touched (Rian Records).
Sunday’s performance showcased both the traditional side as well as a few Hothouse Flowers hits and choice covers, in a somewhat jet-lagged performance (he’d left Dublin at 4am, landed in Minneapolis at 1pm that day) that was more akin to watching an artist sketch, rather than paint.
CHARMIN AND SHAPIRA
Ó Maonlaí’s first set, just over half hour long, started with an acapella song about unrequited love sung in traditional Irish. Moving to piano, Ó Maonlaí crooned the title track to ‘Into Your Heart’, from their 2004 album, which then led into ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, a Creole folk classic, often confused as Irish in origin.
Tempo picked up with Hothouse Flowers’ song ‘Movies’ from 1990’s Home, then Ó Maonlai mentioned “Hibbing, Minnesota is the origin of this song”, prefacing a brief rendering of Bob Dylan’s ‘Is Your Love in Vain?’, which ended the too-brief first act.
Ó Maonlai began his hour-long second set with the crowd assisting in holding a constant note (or hum) for a macaronic song (one sung in two different languages), picking up the Irish frame drum, the bodhrán, in mid-song to finish with spirit. Another Dylan cover followed, ‘Forever Young’, with Ó Maonlai on piano and crowd gently singing along with the chorus.
Liam Ó Maonlaí on tin whistle
Sometimes rambling and too introspective, it was nonetheless fascinating at its high points, to hear the juxtaposition of ancient Irish folk songs melding their influence into contemporary songs and Dylan and Morrison covers, to form a spectral arc of the modern Irish music experience, in a mere 90 minutes.
Liam Ó Maonlaí is a man still in further search of his roots, heritage, and musical identity, and on an impromptu night in which he shared that journey with us, the bright spots outshone any lost wandering.
Liam Ó Maonlaí at Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis (12/01/13)