I fully admit that my tolerance for blue-eyed soul has diminished significantly over the years. I gravitate more to harder edged blues and roots music, funk, rockabilly, etc. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for Hothouse Flowers, a really great band from Ireland who famously never quite broke though to their expected post U2 stardom in the United States.
In their prime, they were a killer live act. I saw them open for Midnight Oil in the early ‘90s and was completely blown away by their ability to jam. They had a powerful guitar, keyboard sax sound that was effortless and beautiful.
After Songs From The Rain failed to make them superstars, they faded away and hung out in Ireland, rarely touring the states and when they did, they dropped the sax and stripped away the powerful sound. The next time I saw them was as a duo. Just Liam O’Maonlai (Keys and lead vocals) and Fiachna O’Braonain (guitar) and it was lacking. Reminded me of when I saw “Squeeze” and it was just Chris Difford and Glen Tillbrook as a duo. Though Hothouse Flowers as a duo was better than Squeeze.
More recently, they have regrouped with a bass and drummer and come to the states about once a year for some club gigs.
Last night being St. Patricks day made for a fun night at The Highline Ballroom (nice venue) though it was a seated show which was fine for me but later, folks found a way to stand and dance. There was a surprise opening set by Pre-Nup, the side project for Fiachna, a trio with Cait O’Riordan (formerly of the Pogues and Elvis Costello’s Ex) on bass and Dave Clarke (the current drummer for Hothouse Flowers) manning the skins. It was pretty good five or six tunes. Fiachna has a nice voice and his guitar playing is strong.
The Flowers came on about 9:00pm. Liam looked a little extra dishevled and sad, a stark contrast to Fiachna who looks great, healthy and upbeat. They opened with “Be Good” which is my favorite Hothouse Flowers song. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite have it together for the first number and it was a tad rushed and sloppy. They got it together soon after and rolled though mostly early stuff “Don’t Go”, “It’ll Be Easier In The Morning”, “The Older We Get”, “Giving It All Away”, “I Can See Clearly Now” (yes, the Johnny Nash cover – this song used to be a show-stopper for them and last night was a very good version and reminded me why I liked this band so much), and “Movies” (also great).
It was two other cuts from Songs From The Rain that were the highlight of the night for me. “Thing Of Beauty” and “This Is (Your Soul)” were stunning. Liam seemed to be focused and deliberate, making sure they delivered at least a couple of big songs on the small but adoring audience.
I thought they could have played a little longer. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the crowd was just starting to get going but they were done before 11pm. About a two-hour set, so it wasn’t short, I just wanted them to do “Gypsy Fair” and “Sweet Marie” or a couple more of their excellent songs.
They play small clubs these days and even in New York, the ticket was only $25 so it’s a bargain for a band with a ton of talent and some great songs. Check them out if you can stomach blue-eyed soul. I think they put on a better show than Van Morrison these days and at about one eight the cost.
Thanks for the review. I will venture to say that while I found it difficult to get into this band, Thing of Beauty is one of the greatest songs ever written...IMHO
..not to be ignored
saw them 15+ years ago when the lead singer used to come out barefoot
He was barefoot again. He also stank according to someone who met him that night.