At one point during the Mad Ripple's set last night, singer Jim Walsh leaned down and peered at a fresh pint of beer and a shot of whiskey someone had set at his feet. "Where did this Jameson and Guinness come from?" After a theatrical pause and sigh, he added, "Ok, fine! I'll drink it. But I might fall apart."
"We want you to fall apart!" shouted Martin Devaney, whose label, Eclectone Records, is releasing the Mad Ripple's latest disc. It's a sentiment that summarizes the feeling of so many of the Mad Ripple's hootenannies: Everyone comes to listen, and nobody expects anything to be perfect. In fact, the imperfections and cracks and mis-starts are often the best part, and only add to the loose, communal vibe that characterize the hoots.
And so the night went, with Walsh and his thrown-together band making their way through a long set of songs off the new album, Her Tattoos Could Sail Ships, and his first record, Sink and/or Swim. Some moments were sloppy, some were joyous and beautiful, and the crowd ate up every moment with the same amount of admiration and cheer. Walsh was joined on stage by a backing band of friends (photographer Tony Nelson on guitar, Tuesday's Robot leader Rick Robot on bass, Pete Christensen on keys, Eliza Blue on violin/banjo, and Andrew Android drums), and a rotating cast of young female songwriters from the hoot took turns helping out on harmonies.
The room was filled with familiar faces, including many musicians and music geeks who are regulars at Walsh's evolving and long-running hootenanny series, and that cameraderie, coupled with the Irish swagger of many of Walsh's folk tunes, made it feel more like we were in a small-town pub than a slick new Uptown music venue.
That's the thing about the Mad Ripple's shows -- once you've gone to a few of them, it's easy to feel like you've stumbled onto a new family, or perhaps you've found yourself in the closing scene of so many movies, where all the characters are gathered together fortuitously for one final sing-along. It sounds cheesy, but as the band fired up a cover of the Proclaimers' "500 Miles" and everyone in the room started shouting along, it was hard not to feel like it was all part of something bigger than just another show on another cold winter night.