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Live reviews: 2002

The Grand Rapids Press: Wealthy Theatre, 10 October 2002

review by Curt Wozniak - 11 October 2002

Passing by Wealthy Theatre on the days leading up to Thursday's visit by Ireland's blue-eyed soul band, Hothouse Flowers, anticipation was spelled out in hanging block letters.

Actually, H-O-T-H-O-U-S-E F-L-O-W-E-R-S was spelled out, but there's just something very cool about seeing the familiar name of an international rock act on the marquee of a neighborhood theater like the Wealthy.

So what if Hothouse Flowers aren't exactly required listening in every home in America these days -- they should be. Besides, it wouldn't have mattered if it was the Rolling Stones or the Stone Roses or Stone Temple Pilots, it was just nice to see a band sell out the 400 seat Wealthy Theatre, a facility that's still finding its identity in the community, for its first real rock concert.

And after two energy-packed hours of Flower power, preceded by another hour of fine music by the night's opening acts -- fellow Irishman Colin Devlin (of the band The Devlins) and Grand Rapids's own Ralston Bowles -- the concert met that anticipation head on, exceeding any expectations that may have sprouted from it.

With live music, like any of the arts, there are times when things just come together extremely well and a few hundred people are privileged enough to have been there to witness it. Thursday's Hothouse Flowers show was one of those times.

Guitarist Fiachna O'Braonain, singer and multi-instrumentalist Liam O'Maonlai, and guitarist/bassist Peter O'Toole, along with tour drummer Dave Clarke, delivered an exceptional performance. The energy built steadily, peaking about halfway through the set with a familiar cover -- Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" -- and surprisingly enough, stayed right there the rest of the night.

Imagine it was your college days. The experience of Thursday's Hothouse Flowers show would be akin to going to a keg party, catching a good buzz, and then keeping it all night without ever getting too drunk. Call it restraint, Call it consistency. Whatever it was, the band got its audience in a happy place and held them there through the night.

Sticking primarily to favorites from their first four albums with a teaser from their forth-coming new record (the fat Motown groove of "Autumn Winds") thrown in, O'Maonlai and the Flowers presented can't miss material with a great deal of passion.

Highlights included "This Is It," a showstopper from the band's "Songs from the Rain" album that featured Native American chanting and O'Maonlai's amazing work on the bodhran (Irish drum) in its live encarnation, and the bouncy "Don't Go," part of a three-song encore that featured Devlin and Bowles jamming with the Flowers.

I could have done without O'Maonlai's a cappella Gaelic song, tacked on like an afterthought after the third song of the encore. It seemed too long and too self indulgent, even for a rock 'n' roll frontman, but it wasn't enough to tarnish the rest of the evening.

A low-key performance by one of West Michigan's best singer/songwriters, Ralston Bowles kicked off the festivities Thursday night.

Bowles' 1994 visit to Ireland, where he met Hothouse Flowers after their Christmas show in Dublin, was intregal in WYCE (88.1-FM) being able to intice the band to stop in Grand Rapids during their current North American tour. It took a few years, but the band finally got around to it -- and gave their friend the opening slot. Brilliant.

Bowles is a commanding presence simply by the sincerity of his musical convictions, and he captivated the crowd for a handful of well-resolved folk tunes. O'Maonlai joined him to tickle the piano on Bowles' "Madeline" and added some texture to "Fragile" with sparse, but effective backing vocals. It was a gracious gesture from the headliner to perform relatively unrehearsed with the support act.

Colin Devlin also joined Bowles on stage during his last two numbers. Anyone who caught Devlin with his brother when they (The Devlins) opened for Sarah McLachlan at St. Cecilia Music Society's Royce Auditorium back in the days before her star had risen was confident he'd deliver a solid performance, which he did.

All four members of Hothouse Flowers joined Devlin during his set, and the young singer couldn't contain his excitement. Devlin's tune "Snow Birds," with the Flowers in tow, may have been the best performance of the night.