The Saw Doctors, Live in Galway [CD] (Shamtown Records, 2004)
The Saw Doctors, Live in Galway [DVD] (Tyrone Productions, 2004)

I've said it before and it's still true: the music of the Saw Doctors is like a dose of Prozac -- I listen to it and I get happy. All the benefits, none of the side effects, and it's cheaper than a prescription.

Even though it may be another year until the Saw Doctors release an album of new material, with compilations of the quality of Play It Again, Sham! and Live in Galway, I won't mind too much. The CD and DVD were compiled from two concerts performed at the Black Box in July, 2003, so the material on each is almost identical, the only difference being a slight change in running order and an additional song or two on the DVD.

But the main draw of these discs is that they are the first official live release of the Saw Doctors in concert -- something that fans have been calling for, touting the band live as better than their studio work, for years. They also serve as a sort of "best of" collection. All the fan favorites are covered, including their three Irish number one singles -- "N17" (the opener, full of hometown nostalgia), "I Useta Lover" and "Hay Wrap" (the two closers) -- in addition to their sole UK #1, "To Win Just Once."

All the songs here benefit from the live atmosphere, as they have been further honed since their first recording. The addition of drummer Jim Higgins infuses the tunes with extra power from the bottom up. Most of them are more kinetic, and "I Useta Lover" is definitely new and improved. "Hay Wrap" features a chorus of "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones (a notable influence on Davy Carton's previous band, Blaze X) that takes it to another level, while fitting in perfectly and assisting in the crescendo that leads to the end of a terrific concert, with the crowd still begging for "one more song" upon fadeout.

But no concert is complete without a special guest, and this one has two. Accompanying the Saw Doctors on "Joyce Country Céilí Band" -- since the band itself is, as Moran states, "about as far removed from a proper céilí band as you will ever get" -- are Sean Smyth of Lúnasa and fellow Tuam residents RíRá.

Filmed with six cameras and a professional lighting crew, the kineticism of the band really shines through on the Live in Galway DVD, even on the slower songs. In addition to hearing the music, the viewer gets to watch the individual musicians playing their respective instruments (and in the case of lead guitarist Leo Moran, frequently aping the movements of his influences) and releasing their obvious excitement at being able to do this for a living (through the in-place jumping of "Hay Wrap," for example). This only serves to add to the experience, and would almost certainly be well worth the extra cost for fans. Plus, a CD doesn't allow you to see how cute the fiddler from RíRá is.

In addition to the crystal clear visuals of the concert, the Live in Galway DVD features an hour-long documentary called "A Different Kind of World" that takes the band back home to Tuam, Clare Island, and the surrounding pubs where they got their start. Chock full of interviews and intimate performances, it's informative, funny and gives a rare glimpse into the background workings of Ireland's greatest rock band. There's also a slideshow of 211 photos taken by Leo Moran from the tour (yes, I counted them).

I'm generally not a fan of filmed concerts, because there is always a sense that something is missing -- being there is an important part of the experience. The DVD is a more pristine affair, absent are the alcohol breath and sweat of one's fellow attendees that infuse a concert with intimacy. You can see the audience, but you're not in it, which, to me, leads to a staler experience. So, is watching the DVD a suitable substitute for actually seeing them live? Of course not. But for people who don't live near a frequent venue, or who wish to reminisce about a concert they did attend, Live in Galway -- in both its manifestations -- is a wonderful document.

[Craig Clarke]

Check out the Saw Doctors Web site.