Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, formerly with the Clancy Brothers, are folk entertainers of the highest caliber. The duo delighted the sold-out Lisner Auditorium Saturday night with the simplest of elements: strong singing, well-told jokes and, above all, enduring songs.
Makem and Clancy achieved a living-room intimacy, introducing songs with rambling tall tales, or illustrating stories with subtle instrumentation. Clancy prefaced the affecting love song "Gentle Annie" by reciting part of Yeats' poem "Golden Apples of the Sun," backed by Makem's lyrical guitar and tin whistle.
Both men have robust, resonant voices, soothing, amusing or rousing, depending on the character of the song. Their gentle harmonies were most eloquent on "The Dutchman," a heartbreaking ballad about an elderly couple.
Their brand of music, combining the folk traditions of many countries, seems constructed for audience participation, and the crowd heartily joined in, boisterously on the pub songs, like a hushed choir on the ballads. "I think we must have the crowd from the Dubliner and the Four Provinces tonight," joked Makem, who taught the audience the lyrics to the tongue-torturing "Mary Mac's Father," and seemed pleased when it navigated the treacherous chorus, complete with multiple "dee-doodle-aye-ums."