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The Nose

Connemara Breakdown

Posted 3/23/2005

O’Malley’s March, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s Irish rock band, performed a Steve Earle song during its last St. Patrick’s Day show, March 17 at the Recher Theatre in Towson. The Nose doesn’t know which one, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t “Connemara Breakdown,” an instrumental that Earle named after a Galway seaside region that was home to O’Malley’s forebears. That this heritage-happy mayor is shelving his band is, in the Nose’s estimation, itself a Connemara breakdown. By giving up the band, he’s not only canceling a whole slew of public appearances that do double duty as campaign stops, but he’s excising a core ethnic manifestation of his political persona.

O’Malley says he’s too busy and needs to focus his energy on leadership, not entertainment, but it’s also possible the band has outlived its usefulness. From the looks of the half-full Recher last Thursday—our bartender confirmed the crowd was thinner than it had been for past March performances—he may be right. Perhaps the Irish Bryan Adams act is as dated as the pockmarked Canadian the mayor appears to be channeling onstage. We’ve been saying so for a while, anyway. Back in 2000, City Paper had already had enough, giving “Martin O’Malley, rock star” an award for Best Reason to Be Tired of the Mayor, Already.

Besides, plenty of symbols of O’Malley’s Irish-ness remain. His campaign signs are still green. His daughter’s name is Grace, the same as the 16th-century Connemaran pirate famous for her enterprising, and often violent, defiance of England’s command of the sea. And his favorite movie is about Michael Collins, the Sinn Fein leader who in the 1920s demoralized the British Empire. If former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, a black man who got all sorts of guff for sporting African-liberation colors on his campaign signs in 1995, named his child Nat Turner and idolized the young Malcolm X, there would likely have been a lot of dismayed talk of ethnic divisiveness. But O’Malley, for some reason, is immune to such suspicions. Then again, the rebellions of Turner and X were on U.S. soil, fighting our own institutions of slavery and racism, while Grace O’Malley and Michael Collins fought the British, our erstwhile enemy, over imperialism, making the whole business less threatening to white middle-class sensibilities.

Those sensibilities were overwhelmingly in evidence at the Recher show, where among the tiny handful of black guests were two men from O’Malley’s security detail, wearing wires and dark suits. Asked why they came to the show, one said, “We’re here to protect [the mayor] from you,” pointing to the Nose. But there was nothing the guards could do to protect the Nose from O’Malley’s March, which finally took the stage as Hizzoner proclaimed, accompanied by a long wail of a trombone, “the first note of our last St. Patrick’s night.” The Nose had it on several good sources that O’Malley, the only member of the March to wear a sleeveless shirt, had arrived directly from the gym—“so he looks good to the ladies,” the 11-year-old brother of one of the band mates explained.

The mayor and the band proceeded to run through their set, with O’Malley displaying a panoply of clichéd rock antics: the chicken-neck strut, the strum-and-shake-guitar-while-leaping-off-the-drum-kit-platform, the point-the-fretboard-at-the-crowd-while-clenching-bicep-and-jaw, and so forth. It was hokey, canned, and even a bit distressing to see that our fearless leader felt the need to scan the crowd for approbation after every move.

Still, roots rock is a nostalgic genre, and the show did manage to well up some wistfulness for the old O’Malley’s March of the 1990s, when the frontman was a virtuous and powerless city councilman dishing out real punk-rock anger to packed crowds in small bars, replacing proper lyrics with off-the-cuff references to whatever investigations of government waste and abuse he happened to be spearheading at the time.

Former Sun music columnist J.D. Considine (who also used to write for City Paper) reviewed O’Malley’s March in 2000, under the headline “It’s good he’s got that day job.” In the review Considine lamented that Sun policy forbade him from quaffing ales at the show; he figured the band was probably “grand after two or three pints of GuinNess.” Trust the Nose, J.D., the Guinness doesn’t help, and we don’t think even a fifth of Jameson would have either. Now that the March is being consigned to exclusive, high-dollar political fund raisers, the Nose will be spared future shows. We’ll be at J. Patrick’s in Locust Point, instead, getting our Irish up.

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