By JON PARELES
It's not every arena concert where most of the songs are about being old and decrepit, filled with tearful memories about times that can never come again. But that was the message carried by the Irish Tenors, who performed on Tuesday night at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., and whose tour continues to the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., tonight. They put a Hollywood sheen on the homesickness of the Irish diaspora.
Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from England, three hale operatic tenors -- Anthony Kearns, 28; Ronan Tynan, 39; and Finbar Wright, 42 -- sang robust solos and trios full of longing for a bygone era they had never seen. John McDermott, who was part of the first Irish Tenors lineup in 1999 and was replaced this year by Mr. Wright, sang separately about family, friends and veterans in a gentler pop tenor.
Concert videos from two Irish Tenors tours have become a PBS phenomenon, converting nostalgia into pledge dollars. Tuesday's program was drawn largely from the Irish Tenors' current album, "Live in Belfast" (Point).
To hear the Irish Tenors sing about it, the Ireland of yore was a paradise. The land was green, the colleens were lovely, the sound of pipers playing beloved old tunes wafted through the air. But if many thousands of people hadn't left that Eden, the Irish Tenors would be short of both repertory and audience. Their ballads were the songs of emigrants or exiles who are bound for America, or for prison, or for death; the lyrics gazed back at "Ireland, mother Ireland" with unabashed melodrama while the orchestra swelled with fanfares and crescendos fit for "The Sound of Music." But most songs ended quietly, with the singer once again pensive and lonely.
There was variety in the tenors' voices. Mr. Wright has a hefty tone and a broad vibrato that makes his singing drag the tempo slightly; he sang English with opera-house diction, sometimes sounding as if it had been translated from Italian. Mr. Kearns has a more forthright delivery, clear and ardent, while Mr. Tynan has a higher, sweeter tone with a touch of a sob.
Mr. McDermott is from a different school entirely: the pop realm of John Denver and Jim Croce. But for "The Last Rose of Summer" he harked back to older Irish popular singing. Frank McNamara, who arranged and conducted the orchestra in the other songs, played solo piano while Mr. McDermott sang tenderly about friendship and mortality, with his voice rising to a poignant falsetto at the end. It was no less sentimental than the rest of the concert, but free of the orchestral bombast and saccharine, the sentiment seemed homespun.