It's the night before New Year's Eve in lower downtown Denver, and the city's party district couldn't be more dead. The streets are eerily free of thrillseekers and stumbling suburbanites, creating a ghost-town atmosphere that's heightened by acres of empty parking spaces and the locked doors of LoDo bars that closed early in preparation for the madness that will hit 24 hours later. But at Fado, an Irish pub located a foul ball from Coors Field, the night is brimming with excitement. The establishment's impressive Alice in Wonderland-meets-St. Patrick's Day interior is packed with giddy, Guinness-swilling revelers enjoying the rousing sounds offered by a five-piece called the Indulgers. As their shoes jig across occasional puddles of black beer, the celebrants shout in unison with the band before them: "Oh, my diddly boy! Oh, my diddly day!"
In some ways, "Diddly Day" isn't a typical Indulgers tune. After all, the members of the group--vocalist Damien McCarron, multi-instrumentalist Mike Nile, fiddler Renee Fine, bassist Chris Murtaugh and drummer Pat Murphy--are as serious about rocking as they are about getting their Irish up. But the ditty is indicative of the self-deprecating manner that's a big part of the act's appeal. "Typically, when people ask you what type of music you play and you tell them, 'We're an Irish band,' they say, 'Oh, that diddly-diddly-day stuff?'" notes McCarron, a Dublin native blessed with a manly brogue. "That's the kind of slagging you get. Well, we're not diddly-day music so much; we're kind of rock and diddly-day music. So we decided to write a song with 'diddly-day' in it--and the really intelligent people get it."
Many of the individuals in this category come from backgrounds not unlike McCarron's--but that doesn't mean Denver is home to a secret army of Irish immigrants. "Actually, statistics show that about 40 to 45 percent of all Americans have Irish ancestry of some sort or another," he says. "And if you look at Colorado, it's even higher."
There's plenty of other evidence to support McCarron's claim. Over the past year, a wave of Irish pubs have opened in Front Range communities such as Colorado Springs, Louisville and Breckenridge, and devotees of these increasingly popular stout houses have fallen hard for the Indulgers' energetic brand of Celtic rock. "We have seven or eight gigs a month penciled in for as long as we like," the singer says. "And we're actually making a couple of bucks. It's been great this year."
Good timing isn't the only reason for the Indulgers' rising fortunes. "Our music sells beer," McCarron points out. "When you get the people dancing to that beat, they have a tendency to drink more. So when the bar owner sees that their bottom line is expanding because of beer sales, they're willing to take care of you. That's what it boils down to. If we didn't sell beer, we probably wouldn't get any work."
Of course, alcohol isn't the only reason for the stateside pub renaissance--or even the most important one. "In Ireland, the pub is not a place to go and get hammered or whatever," McCarron admits. "It's the community center. You go to see your grandfather or your nieces or your dog or whatever. And that's the essence of it here, too. The Irish pub is the community center even more so in America than in Ireland, simply because that's all we have here as a starting point." Such venues also provide an alternative to the standard nightspots, he adds. "In LoDo, it's sports bars and sports bars, but a pub is different. Notice anything odd about Fadó? There's no TV set. And it's nice to go into a place and not see a television. What are you going to do if there's no TV? You're going to sit at the bar and have a conversation with somebody--a friend or maybe even a stranger."
When he moved from Ireland to Denver in 1991, McCarron spent much of his time doing just that. In this setting, he witnessed a slew of what he considered to be less-than-pedigreed Irish-style performers, but he didn't immediately respond by racing to the stage himself. "I was a punter first and foremost," he says. "I was a fan of music before I got into music. So I'm coming from the perspective of the fellow that's sitting in the bar watching what's going on. I understand their mentality. You have a few beers, you have a good time. There's not much to it, really. It's simple. And the music itself is based on entertaining each other as opposed to ourselves."
How so? "Well, if you look at a guy running down the field in a football game, he scores a touchdown and he spikes the ball. Well, he's entertaining himself, not the crowd. He's doing it for his own reasons--an egotistical thing, if you like. In America, a lot or people play in rock-and-roll bands for the same reason. They want to be able to say to the person in the supermarket, 'I'm in a rock-and-roll band,' but they don't necessarily want you to come watch them or anything. But Irish music is more of join-in kind of thing: 'Please clap your hands, please sing along. Please entertain yourself by using us as a conduit.' It's a cultural thing."
With such thoughts in mind, McCarron made his debut during an open-stage night at Nallen's Pub four years ago, and before long, he was a regular at various Denver folk venues. Along the way he met Nile, who made his name running a studio in Malibu, California, used by such heavy hitters as Fleetwood Mac, Dave Mason, the Doobie Brothers and Alice in Chains. Upon moving to Denver, Nile split his time between touring with Spirit, a Sixties act currently fronted by drummer Ed Cassidy, and helping to run Alley Records, a local label he co-founded. So impressed was he by McCarron that he offered to trade studio time for tutoring in Web design, the vocalist's full-time trade. The result was 1995's A Matter of Indulgence, which McCarron issued under his former stage name, Damien Promise. This nine-cut gem was showered with so much praise in McCarron's homeland that more than 100 American radio outlets eventually gave it a whirl. In the end, McCarron says, he sold all 1,000 copies of the Pogues-ish platter that he pressed and won invitations to several Irish festivals in Colorado and beyond during 1996 and 1997. A subsequent gig with the Young Dubliners, an Irish rock act with a strong area following, convinced him to put his own group together, and after a number of personnel changes, the lineup solidified just as the pub scene began to blossom.
On the Indulgers' debut CD, In Like Flynn, which is set for release this week, the band's lively approach comes across just fine and dandy in part because of a big-budget production; the disc was recorded at Nile's studio with help from a longtime associate, Fleetwood Mac sideman Neale Heywood, and mixed in California by Chris Bellman, another Nile pal whose credits include Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill. The dozen invigorating McCarron-Nile compositions on the album are built on a foundation of semi-acoustic rock, but they're layered with folksy touches straight from the Emerald Isle. "We're bringing in the fiddle, the pennywhistle, the mandolin and the accordion and adding the drums, bass and the guitar," McCarron says. "That's what makes it an Irish band. If we stuck with guitars, bass and drums, we'd be just another rock-and-roll band.
"Irish rock bands in general don't really exist," he insists. "It's still kind of a new genre. Up until the past few years, Irish music in pubs was typically folk music, using traditional instruments and no vocals. The flipside of that was one guy with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. What we did was take that one guy--me--and got all the other instruments and melded it all together. We were kind of hokey at first, doing it all a bit too furiously, but since then we've slowed down the tempos."
Thanks to McCarron's husky voice and Fine's zippy fiddle work, Flynn evokes Ireland even as it appeals to colonists raised on FM-friendly contemporary rock. This effect was no accident. "We have to be accessible, because we're singing stories about the people who are watching us," McCarron says. "We're not singing about the U.S. government or anything like that. We're singing songs about John and Paddy and Margaret, and them coming to America. Irish music is all about storytelling, and the music is really secondary. And the music is very simple; we're talking three- and four-chord songs and nothing over the top. We're not Pink Floyd here."
"It's very direct, simplistic, honest music, and the accessibility is definitely there," Nile agrees. "And damn, it's danceable. But the real Irish inspiration comes from Damien. He's a poet, and he gives it a real twist. This is the real thing because of him, and without him, it couldn't be done."
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With their first full-length in hand, the Indulgers are now training their sights on Ireland, where the band hopes to take advantage of the country's open-armed approach to radio. "Over there, they'll play anybody who makes a record," McCarron says. "You make an effort and they'll put you on the radio. So that's an obvious place for us to take this record, and I intend to do that. But what we'd like to do there is get it on the radio and get on TV, get reviews in the Irish magazines and papers, and then bring that back across to the States, where the Irish-American infrastructure picks up on it. So we'll never have to actually go to Ireland. We'll use it as a board to get back into America. If we do well in Dublin, people in Boston, Minnesota or wherever will know of us."
In the meantime, McCarron will continue to play the unexpectedly lucrative Colorado pub circuit, which has allowed the band to steer clear of low-paying bookings that most acts must take out of necessity. "We turn down those gigs," McCarron notes. "See, we're lucky, because we're the Irish band; we've got the Irish clubs to support us. It's amazing. I'm having a ball with this, for the simple fact that I think it's very strange."
As strange as the singsong chorus of "Diddly Day" sent up by the Indulgers' supporters on a chilly winter night? "They know it's tongue-in-cheek," McCarron says. "But it's kind of what we're all about. Like, yeah, I've had a lousy day. Now I think I'll have more pints and just sing, 'Oh, my diddly day!' That's what we all do, isn't it? We have a bad day, we go to the pub, we whine away for a few hours, and we get over it."
The Indulgers. 9 p.m. Friday, January 15, and Wednesday, January 20, Fado, 1735 19th Street, 303-297-0066; 9 p.m. Saturday, January 16, Druid Arms, 809 Main Street, Louisville, 303-661-0721.