To say Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span performed a reunion concert at Lisner Auditorium last night is stretching things a bit. Both bands have seen numerous personnel changes since pioneering the British fusion of folk and rock in the late '60s, and their current lineups leave something to be desired.
That's particularly true of Fairport Convention. No longer able to depend on Sandy Denny's voice or Richard Thompson's songs, the quartet now relies more on its instrumental prowess, often pitting David Swarbrick's Celtic fiddle against a pounding rhythm section. Unfortunately, the combination didn't always gel last night. The drumming was frequently intrusive and several rock-inspired solos were dated at best.
Nevertheless, the concert did have its moments. Guitarist Simon Nicol managed to faithfully retrieve from the past a couple of brooding ballads by Thompson. Nicol also collaborated with Swarbrick on a haunting, centuries-old Irish air.
Steeleye Span's performance was far more consistent, thanks largely to Maddy Prior's affecting soprano voice and Peter Knight's melancholy fiddle. Again, a rather pedestrian rhythm section didn't always suit the music, let alone enhance it, but the rock influence never really obscured the beauty of Prior's voice or the merits of the band's intriguing repertoire. At its best, the music was both stirring and evocative.