Luka Bloom
Soiled Dove, Denver, Colorado
(14 March 2000)

"Hey, folks, at last I've made it to Lodo!"

Not only had Luka Bloom arrived in Denver's Lower Downtown (Lodo) neighborhood, he had a new release to promote on an American tour for the first time in several years. Fans formed a long queue outside the Soiled Dove long before the doors opened in order to sit as close as possible to the stage to watch and hear this almost-legend of an Irish artist.

Bloom toured solo with only three acoustic guitars on stage with him. "I think I'm going to readjust the furniture," he said as he rearranged the monitors and launched into "Holy Ground" from Salty Heaven, his latest CD. "It's the holy ground I'm looking for / I wake up every morning / and ask for more / I'm a happy man in the world." Whistling up the stage, Bloom indeed seemed happy as he sang: "I love the sound of the bodhran, kicking in behind me / It heats my blood."

His next song allowed him to demonstrate his wry wit. "Ciara," he explained, was inspired by a woman in Galway with whom he fell in love. Unfortunately for Bloom, "she had absolutely no interest in me." He gained his revenge, so to speak, however, when this love song ("I dream of an angel by the western seashore") became a hit in Ireland, "and she woke up in Galway hearing it every day on the radio. She was angry; I was happy," he joked, noting that "Ciara" must be delivered in an "angst-ridden way." "It's an amazing thing," he noted, "to make a living feeling sorry for yourself."

Bloom didn't seem to feel all that sorry for himself, however, as he focused on additional material from Salty Heaven. He joked about how the Christians came to Ireland "determined to civilize us." He noted, however, that "they haven't met with much success yet," prior to performing "Sanas." This song was inspired by the ancient Irish word sanas, meaning solace, and its lyrics expressed man's search for such peace. He later discussed the unbelievable summer he'd spent in County Clare ("There were five consecutive days of sunshine!") and how the weather plus a lifeguard who seemingly transformed herself into a dolphin underwater were very distracting for songwriting. "I spent most of my days in the water pretending to be drowning." He managed to create a song, "Water Ballerina," about the experience. The new CD's title indeed comes from "Water Ballerina's" line "we swam in salty heaven." An additional note about "Water Ballerina" -- while songs often seem poetic when sung to musical accompaniment, this piece's alliteration ("somehow shyness stayed ashore") helps maintain its literary quality, and its imagery also makes it easy to picture him in Clare with the "water ballerina."

The new album wasn't all that was showcased that evening, however. Bloom touched on older songs and albums that were audience favorites, such as "Acoustic Motorbike" (during which he seemed to perform Irish rap and appear as if he were playing a guitar while riding a motorcycle) and "My Sunny Sailor," his mermaid song that nicely blends the new and the traditional -- the old stories meet the new generation -- and an audience sing along seemed only natural. "Exploring the Blue" permitted him to show off his rich, deep voice.

Denver itself motivated him to sing "Dreams in America," about which he explained with a grin that "I always imagine this song in a Kevin Costner movie." Inspired by a 1580-mile drive from Amarillo to Vancouver while opening for Hothouse Flowers (and the first time he'd seen the Rocky Mountains), it was his initial experience with the American sky, as he termed it. The broad, expansive sky only lengthened his sadness and separation from his love.

His music's sometimes melancholy edges were balanced by his between-song patter and jokes. Just being in Denver made him think of Gary Hart, for example, and how annoyed Hart must be at everything "Clinton's gotten away with." That sense of humor also helped with his "Irish rap" style. "Are there Bog men here?" he asked a responsive audience.

After singing a number of his own songs, he admitted that after 25 years of writing his own material, he devoted a lot of this year to celebrating other songwriters, including Robbie Robertson and Joni Mitchell. "I'd promised myself I'd never learn a Joni Mitchell song because she does her songs so well, but then I heard Tom Rush sing "Urge for Going.'" Bloom's cover was rather unique, however, in that it was half-sung and half-spoken. While he doesn't quite reach Mitchell's high notes, he instead dramatically plummets to the low notes in the chorus, which give the piece an equally thoughtful air. His first encores also consisted of covers from an eclectic group of artists: U2, Abba and Prince. He initially referred to Abba's "Dancing Queen" as a "little Swedish folk song," and to the audience's acclaim, performed it seriously -- but not quite enough so to be over the top. He momentarily became a lounge singer with a guitar.

Bloom's performances personify human emotions -- be they pain or joy -- and evoke pathos to purge the audience and allow is members to start anew and leave feeling, as Bloom sang in his fifth encore, that "the man is alive." While it's often a long time between live appearances (or perhaps because of that time lag), a Luka Bloom concert is to be savored. His Denver fans, hungry for his voice, guitar work and wit, did just that.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]

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