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The Seattle Times - September 28, 1999 

The Tenors: Crowd loves their sounds

by Mark Rahner

The Tenors: Crowd loves their sounds

Let's cut the blarney.

Anyone who hadn't seen the three Irish Tenors' oft-repeated PBS concert could reasonably assume they're a "Saturday Night Live" parody of the original Three Tenors - with a reeling version of Pavarotti emitting Foster Brooks sound effects.

Concert review: The Irish Tenors, last night, KeyArena. "I'm half Irish and half Scots," joked tenor John McDermott, the former Toronto Sun sales worker who bears a passing resemblance to Scottish comic Billy Connolly. "Translated, that means I enjoy a pint - I just don't like to pay for it."

But that was pretty much the extent of the yuks for their concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at KeyArena last night. It was an evening of heartfelt traditional ballads that wrapped up the tenors' short West Coast tour with equally heartfelt adulation.

KeyArena was the wrong setting for the show, though. Beloved as these guys are getting (they generated loads of PBS donations, and their current release is a hot seller at, the Irish Tenors could only fill the venue about halfway. And as a concert hall, the joint makes a good basketball court; nonexistent acoustics made the orchestra sound muffled. That said, it was a sometimes emotional experience to hear dead-earnest, opera-caliber warblers perform old tunes usually bawled out at weddings and wakes. Those melancholy lyrics lend themselves to melodramatic sobbing in your Guinness.

But in a time when Americans ostentatiously celebrate even their remotest cultural ties, these were traditional numbers that had strong meaning for an audience old enough to have had plenty of immigrant parents. At least one woman sitting near me cried.

To backtrack: McDermott isn't exactly opera-caliber - which is hardly an insult, since his voice is the most distinctive of the trio. The young lyric tenor Anthony Kearns sounds like an archetypal opera man. And Ronan Tynan's voice contains a hint of old-time radio crooner. But McDermott has a warm and instantly recognizable voice that sometimes resonates like Gordon Lightfoot with a brogue.

McDermott managed to breathe life into that ancient-to-the-point-of-cringing chestnut, "Danny Boy" and moistened more eyes with the touching "Old Man." The sap quotient had me checking my watch during tunes such as Tynan's rendition of "When You Were Sweet Sixteen" - the guys mostly took turns. But after a jaunty "Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?" I wanted to see John Wayne waltz Maureen O'Hara across the stage.

After more than two hours, the tenors had to repeat songs, because the audience didn't want them to leave. I lost track of the encores. Frankly - to erase any lingering doubt about my sophistication - I prefer these guys to the original Three Tenors. At least I can understand most of the words.