Unlike the other members of the band who splice the set together with self-deprecating anecdotes, the dude on piano and bodhran is a potty white-haired fellow who never speaks or cracks a joke. I have him pegged as the invisible base that holds up on 4/4 solid legs the tone and flourish that the fiddlers and singers — the real artists — splash across score.
The last song swells to its finish, the crowd cheers, the other musicians walk off. They leave him there lost in something as he messes with his drum. He looks up and glances around like he just noticed everyone else is gone. After a few confused and awkward seconds, he starts to tap a stick against the skin of the drum. It takes a few seconds for the audience to realize that something entirely new is happening.
The next 6 minutes are this with 6 years of mastery added:
The 2015 Martin O’Neill plays on stage alone, handling the drum with such precision that he’s making a melody from it. It’s skittering over scales, almost singing on top of its own rip-cracking beat. Then it shushes down, down before curving around what feels like a moan.
My heart is galloping but can’t keep up.
The beat topples all my assumptions.
A little skin stretched over a frame, balanced on one knee and worked with two expert hands, somehow produces how many thousand tones?
It’s humbling to find out yet again what a poor guide my judgment can be, how very little I know about anything at all.
It’s exhilarating to let this new flavor fill my blood, to know how much more is waiting to split wide my husk of certainty.