By Robert Mihalek, Editor & Contributor
“What’s the difference between an accordion and an onion?” asked Irish button accordion player John Whelan. “People don’t cry when you chop up an accordion.”
Indeed there were plenty of laughs and quite a bit of good music during the John Whelan Band’s show Friday at the Parrish Auditorium at Miami University, Hamilton. For the first half of the night, it could have been called the John Whelan Duo, as Mr. Whelan and bass player Tom Wetmore were missing two bandmates thanks to the terrible weather.
Part of what made Friday’s show so entertaining, intimate, and quirky was Mr. Whelan’s sense of humor and propensity for goofy, charming storytelling. Name another accordion player who can spin a jig while moonwalking?
But don’t short change the music.
In a way, the show was two performances – the first 45 minutes of accordion and bass, and the last hour and 15 minutes when fiddler Laura Risk and acoustic guitarist Bruce Uchitel arrived.
During the duo section, Mr. Whelan and Mr. Wetmore mostly stuck to traditional Celtic tunes, though Mr. Whelan admitted to the subdued audience, “This is not your typical Irish show.” Nevertheless, they offered a sometimes clunky, definitely inspired, set of jigs and reels.
Best of all was “Passage of Time,” an original Whelan tune, that was sad, almost weepy, and accented with a strange rhythmic accordion bounce.
The band played music that stretched the boundaries of traditional Celtic. Between classic Irish rhythmic patterns, one could hear funk, folk and rock.
Mr. Uchitel’s guitar picking was lilting and sonorous, providing a perfect backdrop for Mr. Whelan’s flowing wails and Ms. Risk’s smooth fiddle. “The Banshee” had a surreal Irish jug band feel, “The Riverboat Set” was a funky string of polka tunes.
Though no one cries over a chopped up accordion, not even the sweetest Vidalia onion could be as tasty as the John Whelan Band.