When it comes to news of one of our favorite bands, the Prodigals, “Off the Record” has of late devoted much-deserved ink to the Andrew Grene Foundation, the charitable endeavor created by head Prodigal Greg Grene. The charity is a tribute to the twin brother he tragically lost in the rubble of the Haitian earthquake last year.
Forgive me, then, if I haven’t reported that Greg Grene and the Prodigals have not given up on the rocking that they routinely do in bars, clubs and Irish festivals around the nation.
I hadn’t seen the band since 2009, when they were running around in support of their Whiskey Asylum release and hadn’t caught the current lineup changes that include Dave Fahy on guitar and Bulgarian Trifon Dimitrov on bass.
I remedied that situation over the Easter break to catch the Prodigals as part of the month-long celebration of Paddy Reilly’s in New York.
I was ill-prepared for what I saw. Gone is the jig punking the lads have done in years past.
With the new lineup, caustic electric guitar riffs are replaced by aggressive acoustic strumming that allows for Dimitrov’s caffeinated bass lines and Grene’s fiery accordion playing to take their turns at the spotlight. I hereby re-christen these jig punk kings trad-rock brawlers!
Grabbing a beer bottle from the bar, Dimitrov peeled off wicked slide guitar bass lines for the crowd favorite “Open Reel,” while drummer Chris Berry kept time with a funky back beat.
“I was trained classically on guitar back home,” Dimitrov says. “I was asked to play bass because we had too many guitarists in that band. I hated it at first but I got used to it after a while.”
Considering how he replaced bass virtuoso Andrew Harkin, Trifon is nonchalant about how he brings a new level of ferocity and funk to the band.
“It’s just what I do,” he says with a shrug, his sunken eyes modestly avoiding your gaze. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who played the four strings like a caged animal a few moments ago!
Originally from Galway, Dave Fahy is a self-taught guitar player who possesses a broad range of styles, from driving and percussive to sensitive and nuanced.
His singing is clearly influenced by Christy Moore, Dick Gaughan or Shane MacGowan, artists that hug each syllable of the song to create a landscape of the Irish countryside. Perhaps this is another agent that brings a more traditional Irish feel to the band than what I remembered.
“I tried playing the electric guitar in this band and it just didn’t work for me,” Fahy says. “Making the melody more acoustic allowed me to bring my own stamp to the music, and I think it really opens the band up into new directions.”
This versatile group can switch on a dime, with a flourish of Creole music passing you by and the band is already three bars onto “Work’s Too Bloody Hard” before you know what happened. It’s a sly tribute to Haitian people and the culture brother Andrew gave his life to support.
There was nothing sly about the heartbreaking “Snow Falls on Derrycark,” a new song Grene wrote for his twin on the occasion of returning to their birthplace. “Now the child's foot and hand/go where her father’s used to go/standing now where the memories stand/knowing all they know/snow falls on Derrycark/the wind now whispers in the rising dark/may she dream of you.”
Grene repeats that last line, his eyes growing moist right before he closes them. Grene’s mother, in for the holidays, rocked on her heels, gazed proudly at the stage and softly murmured the words with her son. This reviewer washed the lump that formed in his throat with a pint of the black stuff.
“There are moments when I sing that song that I can almost feel him put his arm around me,” Grene admits when I remark how the song’s performance seems like a continuing conversation between the twins. “It’s surreal.”
Funk, trad, creole, and rock with attitude were all served on this night. If you couldn’t find something to like in the set, than chances are you don’t like music. Check out the band and fall in love with their music all over again at www.prodigals.com.
It is there you will see a button to find out more on the Andrew Grene Foundation, a worthwhile cause that provides educational assistance and support to the Haitian people where a transformational difference can be made. Visit http://www.andrewgrene.org/ to find out how you can help.