ESSAY: Pick Just One: The Saw Doctors' Live in Galway [PREVIEW]

I hesitated before offering a live album as the essential, singular release of a band that's not exactly a household name (unless you live in Ireland). In my experience, live albums aren't always the most welcoming to new listeners. Recording quality and variations in lyrical understandability aside, concerts performed by bands whose members have great chemistry are often peppered with inside jokes for the fans, or moments of extended banter and improvisation between and within songs that might turn off unfamiliar listeners. But with the Saw Doctors' 2004 live album Live in Galway, I have to make an exception, because Live in Galway is the best, and most complete, encapsulation of what the Saw Doctors are about as a band. Buoyed by the audience's clear enthusiasm and by lead singer Davy Carton's pure charisma, the Saw Doctors bring their A-game, showing why they're the most beloved and enduring Irish rock outfit not led by Bono.

It's not for nothing that the Saw Doctors have been compared to Bruce Springsteen: their music covers many of the same kinds of themes as the Boss', only relayed from thousands of miles away and interwoven with elements of Celtic music and folk rock. Their best songs brim with expressions of love, desire, frustration, desperation, nostalgia, tenderness, homesickness, and joy from a working-class perspective, rooted in their origins in the small town of Tuam in County Galway. The fondness they feel for their hometown, and for the Irish landscape as a whole, is wise, and often ambivalent, yet no less honest in its affection.

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