Midway through the Battlefield Band's performance at the Wolf Trap Barns on Thursday night, Scottish fiddler Alasdair White taught the audience how to say "very good" in Gaelic. Shout it out anytime, said the teenage phenom afterward. "It's not only encouraging, it'll make you feel cultivated."
Not that the crowd needed any prodding. All it took was the sound of White and Highland bagpiper Mike Katz ripping into a set of dance tunes, including reels bursting with color and energy, to entice nearly everyone in the packed house to underscore the music with clapping hands and stamping feet. Even an old-fashioned Celtic waltz proved rhythmically contagious once the renowned quartet pushed the tune into overdrive, arguably its favorite gear. White and Katz also used tin whistles to lace the music with bright, darting tones and briefly evoked something akin to a Scottish barn dance while indulging in dueling bagpipes.
Like its repertoire, the Battlefield Band's lineup has seen a lot of changes over 30 years. Guitarist and singer Pat Kilbride, who recently returned to the fold after a 25-year break, now shares lead vocals with founder and keyboardist Alan Reid. While Kilbride soulfully interpreted vintage and contemporary songs, Reid unveiled original narrative ballads, including two richly evocative portraits: "The Bonny Jeannie Deans" and "The Riccarton Tollman's Daughter."
Many of the tunes were deftly orchestrated by Reid's work on synthesizer -- he conjured both atmospheric and slightly funk-flavored moods. But it was the ensemble's acoustic drive and interplay that ultimately pulled the crowd to its feet, eager to hear an encore.
-- Mike Joyce