As the principal songwriter, vocalist and accordion player for The Prodigals, Grene has been to Savannah many times, and has played his fair share of gigs here – but oddly enough for a group of their persuasion, The Prodigals have never been part of our St. Pat’s party.
Considering the band’s hard-won reputation as the premiere traditional Irish rock band in the U.S. and our city’s notoriety for holding one of the largest public celebrations of this most Celtic of holidays, Grene himself finds this anomaly a little hard to fathom.
“I’ve heard that what you guys do there for the holiday is really amazing,” he relates. “Like Mardi Gras. I really can’t wait. I really, really can’t wait!”
In fact, in what amounts to one of the stranger itineraries in recent memory, The Prodigals will headline our St. Pat’s celebration at 1noon on Saturday, and then do the same at 9 p.m. that same evening in Underground Atlanta.
Grene says it’s not uncommon during this season for The Prodigals to do more playing than sleeping (in the early days of the group they once famously appeared in Chicago, Cleveland and Las Vegas all within a whirlwind 24-hours), but this schedule was dictated solely by their desire to take part in our celebration.
“Routing us through Savannah is – in a way– craziness. But then again, we’re not really doing it because it’s logical, or for the money. We’re doing it because... Well, hell! I’ve always wanted to play Savannah on Patty’s Day! (laughs) That’s the truth. It’s been a fantasy of ours,” he says.
Grene says their ability to maintain their high performance standards are a testament to the sympathetic way in which the current (and relatively new) lineup of the group is gelling onstage.
“That’s part of why I’m so worn out today,’ he explains by phone from Florida.
“I had all the good intentions of going to bed early, but we were just smokin’ on stage last night. We were all high on a certain type of amazing energy! It’s hard to explain, but if you come down to the show you’ll see what I mean. We’ve had many lineups over the years, but I really feel now like this is the band, with a capital ‘T.’ You know what I mean?”
“We simply couldn’t do two gigs on the same day in different cities like that unless we were in the middle of this wild experience. Being in the band now is just so intense. It’s euphoric,” he exclaims.
“Lately, the shows have been the kind of experiences most people get maybe twice in their life – like on their wedding day and at their own funeral. This band, though, is getting them on a regular basis.”
Ironically, the group, which is regularly cited as one of the most innovative bands in their field, has just released a new album titled Momentum, which many critics are calling the best of The Prodigals’ career.
It’s been said that while most of the group grew up in Ireland, their music is based around a pulse and energy that is “pure New York.” Grene says that might mean different things to different people, but he’s sure of what it means to him.
“It’s something of an Irish melodic backbone with an anarchic spirit. We feel freedom to experiment with our music, and that’s pure New York. The city is an odd melting pot. You’ve got Little Italy, Little Poland, all these vibrant ethnic communities teetering on top of each other, but coexisting. Not losing their essence.
“In our band, there are no rules. If the drummer hears a Samba rhythm or a jazz beat that he thinks would work for the song, he plays it. That might offend some purists, but there are no purists in this band. We’re not about gimmicks, but we do try to explore things through music without worrying if anyone will think it’s proper or not. A little pushing of the envelope is OK. I’d rather have the crowd jump a bit than fall asleep! (laughs)”
So if that’s the spirit of New York, what’s his take on the spirit of Savannah?
“An intense, amazing city that feels almost like Venice. One of those places that’s become a kind of emblem,” he says.
“Geographically it’s quite small, but the range of people who come from around the world to imbibe ‘Savannah-ness’ is quite huge.”
The Prodigals play River Street’s Arbor Stage noon Saturday.