March Madness has arrived, and I'm not talkin' about the freakin' NCAA Basketball Tournament. You can raise a pint to local Celtic-based bands including the Fenians, American Wake and Gypsy's Kiss on St. Paddy's Day, but why wait till then to relish the Irish spirit of musical merriment?
In a rare U.S. West Coast appearance, Dublin's Gráda performs Saturday night in San Juan Capistrano during what promises to be an exhilarating, soul-enriching experience. While the folk-based quintet—featuring flute player Alan Doherty, double bassist Andrew Laking, fiddler Brendan O'Sullivan, guitarist Gerry Paul and new lead singer/bodhran player Nicola—is steeped in tradition, it's certainly no stranger to experimentation. That's why, for instance, the first thing you hear on the song "Tread Softly" is a mournful cello. Or how about that perky trumpet solo closing the aptly titled "Shock On"?
Part of this fresh approach is born from the band's diverse backgrounds and musical interests. Laking and Paul are transplanted New Zealanders, and the band members' influences come from Irish, Cape Breton and eastern European sources. About 80 percent of Gráda's material is original, with the remainder featuring songs and tunes from the likes of Emily Sailers, Oscar Wilde, Teddy and Linda Thompson, and esteemed New Zealand songwriter Greg Johnson. Add a touch of jazz and blues here and there, and the result is a sound and style not easily labeled or reproduced.
So far, Gráda has released two solid albums, 2002's Endeavor and 2004's The Landing Step. But I'm guessing that in concert, selections from these recordings will be delivered with several unexpected twists and turns. And we wouldn't want it any other way, would we?
Gráda performs at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 248-7469; www.musicatthelibrary.com. Sat., 7 & 9 p.m. $10; kids 12 and under, $5. All ages.