I am not sure exactly the last time St. Paddy’s Day coincided with the first day of March Madness, but it almost prevented me from heading into Old City to hear John Francis last Thursday. My friends Suzy and Lappy had mentioned they were headed over to the Tin Angel for the show and since I had not been to any shows in a awhile, getting nervous about my count and wanted to see a show with these two, so St. Paddy’s madness be damned! I am so glad, because I ended up spending a delightful evening listening to John Francis and his friends playing some great Irish tunes, including a full set of Van Morrison covers.
I got there a little after his first friend was just finishing up, but in time for the start of John Francis’ set (apparently you have to always refer to him as John Francis, not John, not Mr. Francis, full on John Francis). He started out with a Ragland Road, which I am going to pretend that anyone reading knows this is one of my favorite Joan Osborne covers. And through his first set, he did some of his original music, some shtick (i.e. “Tonight is an alcohol free evening for me- I am not going to buy a drink.” Rim shot.) and general story telling. All very pleasant. After his first set, another friend came up and she played one song. Sounded a lot like Maura O’Connell to me, you know a voice that could sing the phone book and you would end up weepy because it sounded so sad and plaintive. Then his friend Sarah Williams, Hurricane Hoss, came up for a set.
Hoss (below) was awesome. She switched from Irish music to country, which is really the same thing when you think about just different accents. But you got your sad songs, some drinking, lost loves and general depression in each genre. Good stuff. In any case, who cares if it is Irish or country music, because she ended with an awesome cover of Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell. All was right with the world at that point.
John Francis then came back with his band for the Van Morrison set. And here is where it all changed for me. It was an enjoyable evening before, now it was an excellent evening. When he stopped with the stories and just did his Van thing, it was mesmerizing. His voice and attitude changed and the band was tight. And if you have ever been to the Tin Angel, you know that one person on the stage makes a band. Now there were five guys on stage, piano, drummer, etc. It was crowded, as in it “duck the bass player’s instrument on the way to the bathroom” crowded. And it was awesome! You know how sometimes you go to a show and the band covers a song as an encore and you are like- wow that was cool. But there is something totally different going to a show knowing it is all going to be cover songs and of an artist you love. It is just unapologetic fun. The crowd was some dancing, lots of singing along at top volume and general merriment. And since hearing the stories of how disagreeable Van can be at his own live shows, I think I had more fun at this Van show than people who actually see him live do. John Francis ended the set by coming off the stage, unplugged his guitar and among the dirty glasses lit by candlelit he sang to us “Beautiful Ones.” Beautiful indeed.
There are a couple of morals to this story. One, when Suzy and Lappy tell you they are going to hear music- join them. And, two, don’t let a little March Madness and St. Paddy’s Day scare you off from going to see music. Otherwise, you may just miss the “beautiful ones.”
14 shows to go, 91 days to go…