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Harbor music closes on Celtic note

The final night of live music on the Harbor for the summer of 2011. And a fine night it was.

A nautical theme did seem to prevail throughout the evening, it must be said, particularly during the set of headliners Great Big Sea, a troop of "Newfies" hellbent on spreading the gospel of Celtic music far and wide. The packed crowd was already there before the band even started, of course. Buffalo has long been Great Big Sea turf. It was interesting that the band capped its own summer tour on the same night that the Rocks the Harbor bid us adieu for the season. The whole evening had the flavor of a fond, and temporary, farewell.

In addition to a killer set from our own openers McCarthyizm -- singer Joe McCarthy, drummer Jeff Schaller and guitarist Paul Ceppaglia in particular stood out during a very well-received set of songs that was punctuated by an inventive reinterpretation of the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and the band's own "Four-Letter Word" -- the crowd was blessed by an inspired set from Boston-based troubadour Martin Sexton.

Great Big Sea is all about that whole Celtic groove. Not so much the punk-informed vibe of Ireland's own, The Pogues, of course. But the slightly more all-ages friendly acoustic-based Celtic music that pleases folks across the board. Particularly if they are enjoying a beautiful late-summer evening, and perhaps a few drinks besides.|

Great Big Sea doesn't take itself too seriously -- interpolations of the Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had A Million Dollars," John Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane," and Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" [Oh, and there was certainly a dash of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in there too, wasn't there?] But this only seemed to add to the fanatical response offered by the assembled. The rabid crowd was as happy with the straight-ahead Celtic pop of "Ordinary Day" as it was with the a capella take on "Safe Upon the Sure," a tune that has traditional Irish weeper "Danny Boy" written all over it.

"The Night Paddy Murphy Died" urged everyone to get their Irish on, while "The Chemical Worker's Song" encouraged a communal revelry that belied its somber title. A standout was certainly "Everything Shines," a pop-friendly tune that found Buffalo native and Push Stars founder Chris Trapper chiming in with all his heart. In fact, Trapper had already been on the stage, joining his fellow Boston-based singer-songwriter Sexton to sing harmony during "Evangeline."

Sexton came close to stealing the show with his opening set. With just his acoustic guitar for company, Sexton tore the joint up, his agile voice and eminent soulfulness driving tunes like "Living the Life," "Beast In Me" and "Candy" straight into the hearts of listeners. Or at least it seemed that way to this listener.

It was hard to say goodbye to what has been an exceptionally enjoyable season at the Harbor. A great show made it easier. But next year? I believe I'm not alone in expecting even more shows of this caliber in the same fantastic locale.


> Concert Review

Great Big Sea

With Martin Sexton. Part of Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor. Saturday evening in the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.