Los Diablos add rock backbeat to Irish music
by Seth Rogovoy

GREAT BARRINGTON – Los Diablos was not the first band to discover that if you put a rock and roll backbeat to Irish ballads and drinking songs and mix in a punk-rock sneer it really works. The Pogues were doing it in the 1980s, and the Chieftains and even the Clancy Brothers before them were never immune to the dynamics of rock music.

So they may not have been the first, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be one of the best. And in their show at Club Helsinki on Wednesday night, Los Diablos rocked and rolled its way through several dozen of its Irish-rock originals and cover tunes, showing them to be worthy, musical heirs to those who have trod this territory before.

In Josh Lederman the group boasts a fine lead singer, songwriter and frontman. Lederman has a colorful, rich voice, which digs as deep as Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies but easily jumps up to the sneering registers of Shane McGowan of the Pogues. And the quintet of mostly-acoustic musicians were energetic and versatile.

“I Fell Inside a Ditch” hid a surreal, noir-ish They Might Be Giants-like narrative inside an Irish-flavored ballad. Mandolin and accordion gave the song color and multi-dimensionality, and it breathed in a timeless, rootsy fashion recalling The Band. The musicians, including John Buczkowski on accordion and Pete Varga on mandolin, were not afraid to play a lot of music. In lesser hands, it would have been called “jamming,” but this was no jam-band – this was music shared for the pure joy and sound of it.

The band showed other influences too. One slow, bluesy number about a drunken cuckoo bird was fueled by a Dave Mason-like electric slide-guitar riff, while a Tex-Mex version of Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” was powered by rockabilly drums. The band introduced “The Olive Tree” as a “Greek polka,” and “I’ve Been Down So Long,” about a motorcycle ride with the devil in New Orleans, was a slow Cajun two-step peppered with heavy-metal power chords.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 8, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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