Luka Bloom » fan reviews
Luka Bloom - Live in Concert
Riverside era New York City
reviewed by Sean Daly, January 1999
Irishman In Chinatown Tour 1989 23/06/1988  Roseland, NYC (opening for The Pogues)
08/03/1989  Under Acme, Greenwich Village, NYC
14/03/1989  Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC
16/03/1989  Phebe's, Bowery, NYC
17/03/1989  Knitting Factory, NYC
19/03/1989  Continental Divide, NYC
23/03/1989  in Queens, NYC
18/05/1989  Knitting Factory, NYC
29/05/1990  Continental Divide, NYC
30/05/1990  Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC
31/05/1990  Tramps, NYC
02/06/1990  Maxwell's, Hoboken, New Jersey

Ten years ago I was a (struggling) musician and record producer in my hometown, New York City. (BTW Today I have a great life, family and working in computers in Paris!) Evenings I was constantly rehearsing, gigging, recording... and checking out bands. In the spring of 1988 a good friend of mine, Suzzy M. started telling me I HAD to go see Luka Bloom, a phenomenon waiting to happen. Although I wrote lots of folky stuff myself I couldn't stand folkies, so I resisted. Until I saw The Man play and sing!

Amazingly, I remember this period like yesterday, because it was at the end of my ten-year NYC musician period - I went broke in 1989 financing the production of the debut album of my band Sirens Call (unreleased), got sick of the music biz after some bad contracts, and working briefly in sales at a record pressing plant, and a few weeks at PolyGram - and in the summer of 1990 dumped music and New York for love and computers in Paris, later Moscow, and now Paris again. And as it happened, with my complicated life at that time I had just started monthly datebooks which I have scrupulously saved and which have allowed me to match (and refresh!) my memories with dates. Anyway enough about me, here goes:

Thursday, June 23, 1988
Roseland, NYC (opening for the Pogues)

The first time I saw The Man. Roseland, a vast 1940s-era dance ballroom situated in midtown, remade into a laserlight disco, was for this gig a standing-room only hall with a gigantic closed curtain. Waiting for the Pogues, all the drunken crowd wanted to do was mosh, not listen to sensitive songs. And Luka's great bass-boost guitar sound which I was to discover later was mud in that terrible PA.

But a curious thing happened: where any ordinary folkie would have been chased off the stage in front of that huge red velvet curtain with beer bottles flying, Luka got people to listen (mostly) until his time was up. He ruefully excited saying "I know you are all impatient to see the Pogues, so I won't trouble you any longer!" The Pogues were outstanding, of course. After the show I said to my friend Suzzy, "well he's good but is he really great?" and she said "no-no-no this is not a suitable venue for him. The sound was horrible. Come see him again!" Which I did, and have never regretted...

Wednesday, March 8, 1989
Under Acme, Greenwich Village, NYC

A basement club on Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. A not-bad folkie opened but when Luka took the stage, his self-assurance and his big sound blew everybody away. New York buzzed about that gig for weeks, Luka was hot. I really heard what would become the Riverside tunes for the first time. I was knocked flat by the fullness of his guitar sound. At this time he still had only one guitar. Midway through the set he busted a string with his energetic strumming and while someone replaced it, he sang a capella "She Moved Through the Fair" so beautifully that it has always stayed with me and nowadays I even sing it that way to my daughter Maeve as a lullaby.

Tuesday, March 14, 1989
Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC

A Bleecker Street bar in the Village. The tiny stage was "in" the bar which ran along the center of the space, so everyone was around him, and many people there could not even see him - which was not bad anyway, because folks listened to those gorgeous tunes even while nursing drinks at the bar. I was fascinated by the crowd, which was a mix of people "from different walks of life". The Man is a Phenomenon!

Thursday, March 16, 1989
Phebe's, Bowery, NYC (missed)

This is one of several shows I marked in my calendar but didn't make it to (usually because of a recording or gigging conflict!).

Friday, March 17, 1989
Knitting Factory, NYC (missed)

It may have been just before this show (which I missed), on Houston Street in front of the club, that Sue introduced me to Luka since she knew him slightly, but told me just before I shook hands that his real name was Barry so I was rather confused! But I mentioned how I had enjoyed the previous shows.

Sunday, March 19, 1989
Continental Divide, NYC (missed)

A little bar on Third Avenue near Ninth Street where around that time I would see the Spin Doctors before their record deal.

Thursday, March 23, 1989
some place in Queens (missed)

Since I grew up in Queens like lots of Irish-Americans, and at that time Woodside was chock full of newly arrived folks from Ireland, I had seriously considered going out there, but... I didn't.

Thursday, May 18, 1989
Knitting Factory, NYC

I brought my friend Andrea to this show, the first time she saw him, and as luck would have it she drank too much and started hooting "Erin go bragh!" This club, which had a very selective booking policy - only the best - and a tiny second-floor venue, meant that poor Luka had to put up with Andrea's ravings. I slouched low in my uncomfortable wooden chair, to no avail. The third time or so she yelled he looked balefully at the crowd and said, "There's always one, isn't there?" To top it off his microphone malfunctioned, and he did an impressive ju-jitsu style dropkick (holding his guitar!) just short of touching it to vent his frustration. When the soundman got it working again he took a moment to says "Tanks!" and at one point he asked the crowd what tune to play and a bunch of folks called "Pablo!" and, friends, it was a very fine rendition that night.

Tuesday, May 29, 1990
Continental Divide, NYC (missed)

Wednesday, May 30, 1990
Red Lion, Bleecker Street, NYC

The crowd was so thick that night I did not very much enjoy the show! Riverside must have been out by then. As a producer I myself felt that the Luka sound had not been captured on record as well as it could have been. But when one has heard the real thing at three paces, what record is satisfying? Perhaps the most mystifying aspect is that it never occurred to me to record any of these gigs. There were so many, so often!

Thursday, May 31, 1990
Tramps, NYC (missed)

A little place on Fifteenth Street with generally very good sound.

Saturday, June 2, 1990
Maxwell's, Hoboken, New Jersey

The only club across the river in Hoboken, NJ worth playing. Not far from his management's (at that time) offices I think. Oddly for me, this last NYC gig I saw before I moved to Paris had been the last venue my band Mistaken Identity had played in early 84 (after opening for Madonna at Danceteria the previous summer - my claim to fame??). Suzzy and I bumped into Luka at the side door of the club/restaurant in the late afternoon around soundcheck time. As before he was friendly but he looked tired and I said so, knowing that he was working very hard. The "Irishman in Chinatown" tour, recording the record in NYC, Dublin, and LA... that night I saw his two guitars for the first time. "Smart!" I thought - handy for the dreaded broken-string situation, and especially useful for anyone who uses more than one tuning in concert. (With Sirens Call I swapped bass for guitar every couple of tunes with my musical partner, Patrice Moran, and we had a devil of a time deciding set lists according to standard or DADGAD tuning, etc.)

Blissfully, there was no opening act that Saturday night - every single person there knew the songs and wanted to hear Luka play. The crowd was raucous and welcoming - it was a fine show. I remember he sang "I Need Love" that night.

I hope these memories have been interesting to you. Since then I have picked up "The Acoustic Motorbike" in Cherbourg, France where my mama's family is from, and "Turf" in Moscow at Purple Legion, the best music store over there this side of the Kremlin. I am looking forward to hearing the new album and I won't miss the next Paris show!

I am not exaggerating when I say that one of my regrets at leaving NYC in 1990 was missing Luka play. He inspired me - not only because the songs were great - not only because he gave everything he had at each performance - but because he brought a level of guitar mastery and amplification knowledge to what he did. Since the Fifties a guy or gal with a guitar have been a dime a dozen on Bleecker and Macdougal Streets - some little dives would even have open mike where the hopefuls could take a number and wait three hours for their five minutes. Suzanne Vega came up and out of that school, by being 'more' than a cookie-cutter folkie. Luka was real - in his songs he got mad, sad, funny - I often felt that his playing must needs be necessary and good for 'him' - but what was different was he brought power and self-assurance no garden-variety folkie had. I will never forget that 1990 gig at Maxwell's - he played a long and violent instrumental interlude, pacing the stage like a panther with his black guitar, utterly on rhythm... before segueing into a spellbinding "Hill of Allen", finally segueing into "Dreams in America". He understood that a merely amped-up guitar fights one's voice, because they are in the same frequency range, so he amped up the 'bass' registers of his guitar. He used superthick strings which, aside from being more break-resistant, give more to electric pickups on an acoustic guitar. He changed strings often - I never saw nor heard him play a dead string. (I myself have always preferred very dead strings which drove Pat wild because we swapped my bass and her guitar all the time!) He knew how to use the "proximity effect" to get more vocal bass response from the mic when he wanted to. All of which made the already-great songs into musical 'events' - it was impossible to ignore Luka when he played. He was not to be listened to recorded, but... 'experienced', live.

Something which fascinated me greatly was his new name. It must have been quite difficult to be in the shadow of his older brother - I can't speak from experience since I am the oldest, but my own brothers say so! I have often disliked noms de plume in performers - are they hiding something or what? In Luka's case at first I felt the name was too far out. But as I learned more about him, I realized it was the opposite - Luka was not trapping himself like Declan McManus/Elvis Costello, but 'freeing' himself. He was freshness to this jaded New Yorker because he 'chose' to go there to make his fortune, like so many Irishmen before him - in his songs I felt that he loved and was excited by NYC, that he wanted to 'give' to his adopted town. I understood in my own way "Luka" - the child, but in the city, and in far from idyllic home situation - plus "Bloom" even though I never got through all of "Ulysses" - and "bloom" is what he was doing anyway. He flowered in New York. When Riverside came out I said, well sure that's my town - those photos were taken on the old, crumbling piers in the Hudson River, surrounded by chainlink fences so that kids won't fall through the gaping holes into the river below!

- Sean Daly

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