There is a lot of talk this day and age about how the music business is on the decline, but as long as there are clubs like the Saint in Asbury Park and bands like Dublin’s Guggenheim Grotto, we can be assured that the business is in good hands.
They say Bruce Springsteen built the Stone Pony and because of this, the club is the main artery of the Jersey Shore music scene. A few short blocks away, however, is the true spirit of rock and roll.
The Saint (thesaintnj.com) is a small bar with a big stage that takes chances on emerging artists singing original songs. They have given a shot to the likes of popular Irish artists like Paddy Casey and Shaz Oye when others in this country would not. If taking risks like that ain’t rock and roll, I don’t know what is.
Last week they played host to the Guggenheim Grotto, the Dublin folk pop duo not averse to taking risks themselves. They have spent the last three months in America, determined to make it, winning one new fan over at a time.
“The Motel 6 is a home away from home for us,” said a weary Kevin May as he wrote out the set list at the bar, his Irish gallows humor intact. “I had no idea how big America is. We’ve just driven miles and miles.”
“It’s 16,000, to be exact,” Mick Lynch chimed in. “I’m gonna hate to give this rental car back!”
The Guggenheim Grotto is now a duo as founding member Shane Power has elected not to tour with the group.
“We never had a doubt about going on as the Guggenheim Grotto,” May told me in an interview a few months back. “We just had to reassess the situation. Do we tour with more session musicians or just the two of us?
“We decided the latter and wanted to retool the band as a duo. I took up keyboards and I really enjoy it.”
You can tell they have taken the lineup change in stride without missing a beat. They had a casual, friendly musical banter with one another, providing the crowd with a hugely entertaining show.
They’ve had a warm reception in the States, with songs from their new "Tigers" EP and "Happy the Man" full length album that are featured liberally on iTunes eventually appearing in episodes of hip shows like "One Tree Hill" as a result of their relentless pursuit of a fan base.
You can tell on their faces that the road has taken its toll as they take the stage, but the weariness soon melts away when the fog machine sparks up and the duo leans into “Philosophia,” the intricate folk tapestry spun with threads of electric piano, complex finger picking and pristine harmonies.
“When we’re young we set our hearts upon some beautiful idea/Maybe something from a holy book/or French philosophia/upon the thoughts of better men than us/we swear by and decree a perfect way to end the war of ways/the only way to be a…Work of art, oh to be a work of art,” they sing, their voices weaving seamlessly into one sound.
“The fog here reminds me of Ireland, because it’s all gray over there,” jokes May of the fog prop. “It also reminds me of Vegas, where they pump in this fake air to keep you up and awake and gambling.”
The Grotto didn’t need any air to get this small crowd engaged. They ran through a tight one hour set of songs from their two full length albums and EP.
The duo is masterful mood setting musicians adept at striking any tone. “Wonderful Wizard” was so brawny and ferocious that it was hard to believe there were only two musicians onstage, while the simple thread of a melody coaxed from a melody on “What Is This Feeling?” displayed the sweet charm of a teenage crush.
Their brand of folk runs the gamut from light-hearted love to brutal introspection. “I was meant for the movies/I was meant to be great/but somewhere in the confusion/I was left in the shade/oh Nikita come get me/I’m almost 30,” sings Lynch on “Oh Nikita.”
“We co-wrote that one with Leonard Cohen; he just doesn’t know it yet,” said Lynch with a smile.
“He used to write the line on bathroom walls to a girl named Marita about him being 30, so we changed the name to Nikita to take his lawyers off our scent.”
Lynch and May were looking forward to wrapping up their long journey with a stop at World Cafe, the influential radio station in Philadelphia, before heading home for a tour of Ireland.
“We can drive around for a few weeks and save our pennies for a trip back over here,” says May earnestly.
The best bands on the planet have one thing in common -- a fierce desire to persevere. Armed with great songs and fierce determination, Guggenheim Grotto is destined for greatness.
For more information, log onto guggenheimgrotto.com. Buy an album or a t-shirt while you’re there and keep these lads on the road!