“You’ve made the trip so worthwhile for us tonight,” a bespectacled Leo Moran tells a swaying crowd at Leeds’s O2 Academy, with a warm grin playing across his features. “It has been a privilege for us to come… all the way over from Europe!”
To his right, fellow bandleader and guitarist Davy Carton sniggers, as do many in attendance.
The Saw Doctors, Tuam’s premier rock and roll export, have always had a way with making light of dour situations. Even the cancellation of this tour for Carton to have vocal surgery, originally slated for last winter, hasn’t dragged them down; barely four months on, they are in fine fettle, as they deliver a good-natured, energetic two-hour showcase in Celtic arena rock.
Opening with the jaunty, turbocharged power-pop of What a Day, Moran, Carton and company rarely let their foot off the throttle in a brawny stage performance.
On record, The Saw Doctors draw their comparisons to fellow Emerald Isle luminaries The Pogues; in the flesh, their sound is more Springsteen in his 80s prime, replete with generous lashings of saxophone.
The enchanting To Win Just Once is stripped of its predominantly acoustic vibe in favour of shiny stadium-rock; Red Cortina is buoyed by its sepia-tinted surf-guitar; Clare Island lies on 90s-R&B synth and a hypnotic drum beat. It is a mellifluous, multi-tone performance, rendered resplendently by the six-piece outfit.
But behind the music lies two men with a joyously irreverent sense of communal humour that elevates the band further live.
On the brass-blast of Tommy K, Carton leads the audience in a choregraphed dance routine whilst failing to match the shapes being thrown himself. The tongue-in-cheek lyricism of the meaty Bless Me Father and That’s What She Said inspire lusty singalongs and belly laughs. During Villains, Moran unexpectedly channels his “hero” Snoop Dogg and hollers at the masses to “put your motherf****** hands in the air”.
I Useta Lover, their breakout single in their homeland, comes out with little fanfare; but by this point, even the balcony is swaying with the mass outbreak of jigging. By the time an accordion has been whipped out for the rambunctious barn-dance triumvirate of Never Mind the Strangers, N17 and Hay Wrap, tears of laughter and joy are flowing freely.
The Saw Doctors certainly have the tunes to match their reputation; but their high-spirited hijinks and Gaelic charm remains a brilliant ace up their sleeve.