It’s difficult to capture—or even describe to the uninitiated—the ephemeral, magical, people-pleasing essence of a Saw Doctors concert. Once you’re there, lifting your Guinness pint and singing along to overseas classics like “Clare Island,” “I Useta Lover” and “Green And Red Of Mayo,” no explanation is necessary. You simply can’t resist the spell of this hard-partying Celtic combo, which seamlessly fuses pop, folk, punk, reggae and traditional Irish sounds with guitarist Leo Moran’s booming Duane Eddy hooks and co-axeman/vocalist Davy Carton’s gruff-but-neighborly rasp. As Carton himself put it in a recent interview, “You come to a Saw Doctors gig, you’re instantly in the band.”
After 15 years together, these old mates nearly disbanded last year when their founding bassist quit. But they soldiered on with this live document, which serves as a reaffirmation of artistic intent. And they enter the ring swinging, opening with their biggest-ever UK hit, “N17,” and its signature call-and-response chorus (revealed in all its glory on a companion DVD); When Carton croons “I wish I was on that N17,” the audience automatically responds with its rejoinder, “Stone walls and the grass is green!” On paper, it might sound childish, Edward Lear-nonsensical. But in a packed, sweaty nightclub, after several pints of porter, it’s positively inspirational; uplifting as a good, old-fashioned church sermon. And in this hometown gig from last July, The Saw Doctors (named for historical traveling tinkers who honed saws from town to town) really pound the pulpit, wringing a soulful new angst from ballad standards such as “Red Cortina” and “Same Oul’ Town,” and investing their Celtic stompers (“Tommy K,” “I’ll Be On My Way”) with a frantic new urgency. And somehow, it makes perfect stylistic sense when they close the concert by melding the workingman’s chant “Hay Wrap” with The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.” You exit this experience breathless, a born-again rock ’n’ roll believer.
Ironically, Carton and company have always been viewed with skepticism by an elitist Irish music industry, as if they’re a bunch of country yokels who succeeded sans Dublin-hub blessing. But Live In Galway should permanently shelve such misconceptions—you simply can’t argue with elegiac anthems that can get an entire nightclub on its feet, singing along.