“I come from Wexford, where small noses are looked upon with suspicion,” deadpanned Pierce Turner as he began a truly memorable show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day.
There was a veritable buffet of all things green on this night, and if this day was all about celebrating the Celtic culture of storytelling then Turner’s knack for homespun yarns, both in spoken word and song, made his show one of the most Irish things you could be part of on the Big Green holiday.
For anyone not familiar with the place, Joe’s Pub has an intimate, delectable supper club vibe that is illuminated with goth lighting. There’s no better place for the offbeat theater that is a Pierce Turner performance.
The two sidemen that plied gorgeous melodies from cellos and violin at either side of him provided a whimsical backdrop for Turner’s theatrical approach to the offbeat set list; it was if the audience watched the bastard child of Eleanor Rigby and Brian Wilson birthed before their eyes.
Turner has an unhinged gaze that he uses to full effect to hook the audience into his every gesture. He kicked toward the audience and at that exact moment, stage hands would clash cymbals in the audience. It was impossible to take your eyes off of him the entire night.
He opened the set with “Come Give Me Your Hand,” a gentle air played on piano that was written by Turlough O’Connor. He told witty stories about that historical piece and it’s composer, offering the small but adoring crowd a left-of-center narrative on the history of Irish music.
“Liam Clancy would be looking for his breakfast after a night of drinking and this annoying kid would roll up on his bike with songs,” Turner recalled. “That boy was Bob Dylan, the place was Greenwich Village, and Liam would growl, ‘What the f*** are you on about with this Mr. Tambourine Man?’ Leave me alone.’” He then launched into a great read of the Clancys’ “Holy Ground Once More.”
Turner’s stream of conscience remembrances of sitting at the breakfast table at home in Wexford were both riveting and poignant. As he tinkled a subtle melody on the piano keys absent-mindedly, he recalled his mother lamenting how “she loved to eat and would even gain weight sick in the bed,” or the dad that told him to stop dreaming about superstardom by assuring him that “only hit singles get written in places like England.”
The show also shone a spotlight on Turner’s songbook, which has been raided by the likes of Christy Moore over the years. At the beginning of the millennium, he wrote the classic "3 Minute World" about the hectic life that buzzed around him.
Years later, the burned out prose seems right in line with the stress we all feel in these dire economic times. “I’m only one minute away from turning around and living again/I’ve been working for years/it’s not asking too much to get a little more time/I stand in the shower for way to long and bow my head in disbelief,” he sang pensively on “One Minute More.”
Over the years Turner has played in a variety of places. He did a successful tour playing people’s living rooms on what he called a “parlor tour,” and I witnessed him snake through the top of a crowded bar at Puck Fair without spilling a drink, hold his own in front of a scorching blues band during a Rory Gallagher tribute, and play this supper club environment, but Puck Fair is where God meant Turner to play. It is also his home away from home as he divides his time between New York and his native Wexford, and always books the room when he is in town.
Make sure you keep your eyes peeled to pierceturner.com to find out when he is playing again. You don’t want to miss it!
While you are online, check out his nifty new EP, "Catch a Wave." Along with some quirky originals, he does a nice cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and the Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave.” If you like the orchestral madness of Brian Wilson’s “Smile” or “Pet Sounds,” this little taste of summery tunes will go down like a margarita on a hot day!