Saw Doctors have the barroom blues

Ireland’s recent Celtic Tiger economy has been heralded as a life-infusing boom. But for the ordinary lager-loving Joe, it feels more like a bust, grumbles Leo Moran, whose folk-rock combo the Saw Doctors has — for nearly two decades — been known for its crowd-pleasing, working-class anthems such as “N17,” “Red Cortina” and the biggest-selling single in Irish history, “I Usedta Lover.”
And it’s a change reflected in the country’s dying pub culture. Moran’s local, the Rustic Vault, is 200 yards from his house, he says.
“And it’s not far from the football stadium, which doesn’t see many games anymore,” he sighs. “Or the hospital that’s now closed down. But I still force myself to go there every night, which gets a bit daunting at times. Especially midweek, when there’s nobody else there but me.”
When the Saw Doctors tour the States (they play Slim’s in San Francisco on Thursday night), the Guinness flows as a mostly-expat crowd happily samples a taste of the Auld Sod.
Ironic, says Moran, since said sod is quickly disappearing.
“And thank God we still have the pub and a few other outposts,” says the vocalist/guitarist, whose Duane Eddy tones set the band’s rollicking pace. “Because we’re definitely wrestling with a new Ireland that’s overrun with traffic and drug-gang murders.
“We’ve become very homogenized, to the point where you walk down the main street of Galway City now, and it’s McDonald’s, Top Shop, Debenham’s — all shops that have come in from abroad. So we don’t have the local stores we used to.”
The new Euro currency only adds to the blandness, as does the smoking ban that’s forced many pub crawlers to drink at home.
With typical tongue-in-cheek aplomb, the band tackles these modern issues on “Out for a Smoke” (a bar-ban lament on their latest “The Cure” album) and a new, free-download single “BeBo,” which lampoons the Irish MySpace equivalent of the same name.
Reluctantly, Moran and his fellow frontman, Davy Carton, maintain a strong online presence, with separate Web pages, blogs, photo/song postings — even daffy homemade videos, like Carton’s webcam-shot “BeBo” clip.
Still, Moran sneers with provincial disdain, “we’re all so much more public now. I mean, I could get up and sing a song at the pub tonight, and it’s very likely that it could be on YouTube tomorrow. That’s just the way life is now.”
And changes are sweeping over the Irish citizenry so quickly, they’ve nearly forgotten the pleasures of yesterday, like a twice-pulled pint of stout from the town tavern.
“There were pros and cons to our drinking culture, which we were famous for,” concludes Moran, who only drinks Guinness draught. “It could be messy at times and it wasn’t perfect. But for us in the Saw Doctors, the pub is still a great socializing arena where people can share their stories and ideas.

IF YOU GO
The Saw Doctors
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $23
Contact: (415) 255-0333 or www.slims-sf.com

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