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Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran Flyin’ it in Jersey

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Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran on stage at Saint in Asbury Park.
Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran on stage at Saint in Asbury Park.

There was a time in the 1990s when the trend in the music business was to go “unplugged.”  It was a period of music history where I suppose both fans and artists reacted against the '1980s over-produced band' feeling in the tunes.

One of the great things about that trend was that the songs revealed something new about themselves when stripped of the studio trickery and synthesizers.

The tour of Anthony “Anto” Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors has that feel to it. Over the course of their two hour set at the Saint in New Jersey’s Asbury Park, the acoustic duo deconstructed the Saw Doctors' songs you know so well and re-created them, exposing new lines in the old grooves.

“Same oul Monday / closed all day/the farmers and their wisps of hay/same oul hanging around the square/same oul spoofers/same oul stares,” Moran sang on “Same Aul Town,” with Anto accompanying him on harmonica.

These lads from Tuam have always painted a clear picture on chip shops, boating and starry nights of western rural Irish life with a reporter’s eye for detail.

Thistlethwaite played the harmonica as Moran strummed, making the song a country cousin to The Boss’s “Thunder Road.” It wasn’t the first time this local hero was mentioned by the duo from the stage.

“We broke a federal law a bit earlier today,” announced Moran from the stage. “We went over to Bruce Springsteen’s house and dropped our new CD off into the mailbox. Apparently, putting things other than U.S. mail into a mailbox is a federal offense as the security guard there so kindly told us.”

Thistlethwaite’s soulful saxophone licks called to mind the late Clarence Clemmons, a connection made by the majority of fans in the room.

That sly “aw, shucks” sense of humor makes Moran a potent storyteller and a charismatic frontman.  His guitar playing was fluid and the voice was in fine form altogether.

“We recycle here on this tour,” joked Moran, holding up a set list that was written on the back of a pizza box. “This is a bare bones tour!”

Moran and Thistlethwaite, taking advantage of a hiatus from the Saw Doctors, have been touring around the Northeast and Midwest with whatever they can fit in the back of a rent-a-car and nothing more.

According to Moran, they are having the time of their lives getting back to the basics and venturing down side roads that the band’s tour bus often missed.

“First love stays with you forever/you were just about to blossom,” Moran sang, encouraging a sing-song of “forever and ever” in between the verses of “Red Cortina.”  This was never a personal favorite in the Saw Doctor’s repertoire, yet this version made the song a set highlight.

Moran injected plenty of stories from his band’s history that were at times as entertaining as the songs themselves. “Red Cortina” was dedicated to an exotic Jersey Italian beauty that he fell for when he came for his first tour of America.

He was staying with his relations in Jamesburg, New Jersey (in the same area of town as this columnist) at the time and recalled the girl’s phone number to this day. That got a huge laugh from the crowd when he recited the number!

Moran sang a number of new and unfamiliar songs, including “Fill Her Up There Mister Oil Man” about a fight between the people of Co. Mayo and the Shell Oil Company. “You’ll never beat the bravery of the people of Mayo/they won’t be bought or bullied and as long as they’re alive/they’ll stand up strong and follow/that famous Rossport Five,” he sings defiantly.

Thistlethwaite and Moran took an opportunity to unearth rare and unreleased songs from their oeuvre. Moran revealed a humorous ditty, “Credit Union,” that he wrote when asked to play a few songs during the opening of the Tuam Credit Union. He wrote that ditty with Tuam songwriter Padraig Stevens, who also helped him write “I Useta Love Her” from the Saw Doctors’ debut album.

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