Enter the Haggis | 11.08.06

Enter the Haggis does for Celtic world music what Nickel Creek does for bluegrass.


Off Broadway, St. Louis

There’s something about Celtic music that awakens an inner joy. It’s almost primitive, really. Maybe it’s the intensity of a good fiddle solo, which makes even the most uncoordinated of us want to cavort about the room, freely swinging from arm to arm with perfect strangers. Maybe it’s the charm of a legitimate Scotsman, which makes even the most sober of us want to slam a mug filled with a frothy beverage of choice against that of our neighbor. Maybe it’s the bagpipe, which makes even the most timid of us want to don Braveheart face paint and William Wallace ourselves to the front lines of battle.

All of the above were proven true on a pleasant Wednesday night as Canadian Celt rockers Enter the Haggis made their St. Louis debut at Off Broadway. The fiddle solo from the masterful Brian Buchanan (he of the formerly Chester Bennington-like red hair…no really, check their site). The crazed dancing by the band’s apparent number one fan, whom they claimed to recall from an Irish festival in Kansas City. The fun-loving Scotsman, Craig Downie, who sat at the bar to watch his cohorts perform when he wasn’t needed for a song. The mugs (or bottles, to be precise), generally filled with Schlafly, given the venue’s location. And the bagpipes, performed with gusto by Downie during roughly half of the band’s set. As for the face paint and inevitable battle…well, the night was still young when I left. And there was a Scotsman running around. And he’d been drinking.

Nonetheless, the five-piece from Ontario were on top of their game this evening, treating the small but appreciative crowd to a long set that featured many a rabble-rousing tune. First, it should be noted that Off Broadway is second to none when it comes to creating a friendly atmosphere (this helped to quell the aforementioned Celtic aggression). The moderately sized bar comes complete with pleasant people, vintage rock photos, St. Louis paraphernalia, broken guitars, and a sweet lovin’ chandelier. If the music weren’t already putting a smile on your face, the aesthetic value of the venue would.

This night, however, the band took care of the work. The best comparison I can give is to say that Enter the Haggis does for Celtic world music what Nickel Creek does for bluegrass. That is, they retain the core elements while expanding the lyrical range and overall accessibility to listeners who might not be interested otherwise. It’s an enticing combination that, like Nickel Creek, allows them to bounce freely between instrumentals (“Lancaster Gate”), traditional themes (“One Last Drink,” a solid contender for “best bar song”), and catchy rockers (“No More Stones”) without coming across as forced or boring. Mix in an assortment of woodwinds, tambourines, and literal bells and whistles and you’ve got a first-rate Celtic jam session. Between Buchanan’s incredible fiddle prowess, his dead-on harmonies with guitarist Trevor Lewington, and Downie’s amusing musings (“That arch out there has changed the dynamics of my pipes,” he said. “That was creative,” shot back Lewington), ETH appears to have all the intangibles.

Frankly speaking, there is no reason they shouldn’t be huge. St. Louis may not have caught on to them just yet, but here’s betting that their second trip through town will be greeted with a larger crowd. Until then, those who were present at this show should, as Downie would say, “Sociable! Lift yer mugs and have a hearty slurp!” You deserve it for being ahead of the game. | Aaron Brummet

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