Raucous Rock

Keith Roberts knows that you’re going to be drunk, and he’s cool with that.

He knows that you’re going to reek of more booze than some kind of weird gene splice between Artie Lange’s digestive tract and a pony keg — not that there’s a huge difference between the two.

He knows that you’re going to embarrass yourself worse than a pro wrestler at a spelling bee, fall down a lot, maybe even hit on an IHOP waitress at 3 a.m.

And that’s OK, because it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, that 100-proof holiday where some of even the most buttoned-up of teetotalers will court a hangover like they were searching for some long-lost relative.

It’s become a caricature of excess, the only day of the year where swilling green brews while wearing a paper hat seems like a really, really good idea.

But as the frontman for raucous Irish rock band the Young Dubliners, Roberts has a different take on a holiday that’s often viewed through the blurry lens of a bottom of a beer glass.

"I’ll tell you what, if you ask people in America what’s happening at Christmas, 50 percent will know," he says of how the real meaning of certain holidays tends to get obscured at times. "If you ask anybody in America what happens on St. Patrick’s Day, they’ll have no idea. The trappings have been completely removed.

"When I grew up in Ireland, the whole thing about St. Paddy’s Day was just the fact that it was a saint’s day," the Dublin-born singer-guitarist continues. "We had a few of them throughout the year, and he’s the patron saint of Ireland, so we got to go to a parade, got a day off school. We never associated it with drinking. Ever. When I came to America, I was mesmerized by how big it was here."

But, hey, Roberts isn’t complaining. He’s a good-humored dude, an Irish expat who now lives in sunny California, and for whom this month is a tornado of rowdy gigs and weary livers.

"Obviously, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t like it, because it’s how I make my living," Roberts says of all the hoopla surrounding the holiday. "We’ll do a show in San Diego on St. Paddy’s Day, and there’ll be about 12,000 to 13,000 people in front of us on a downtown street. There’ll be Latinos, Americans, African-Americans, and all they know is that tonight is the night we get wild.

"But that’s all right," he chuckles. "The meaning of it is more in an Irish way, and I think as long as people are enjoying themselves and being safe, it’s one of the few fun holidays that everybody celebrates and there’s no religious boundaries — even though it’s based on a Catholic religious belief. As long as you’re willing to come out and party, it doesn’t matter what you do."

And the Young Dubliners always have sounded like the best of parties, a bedrock of revved-up Irish instrumentation — uilleann pipes, whistles, etc. — overlain with the sweat and grit of a blue-collar pub rock troupe fueled by an excess of caffeine and cider, adrenaline and longing.

Founded in the late ’80s, the Young Dubs always have favored originals over the standard Irish fare, kicking out earthy, folk-inflected jams powered by hard-scrubbed guitars and Roberts’ sturdy, unadorned brogue.

Within the broad spectrum of Irish music, which ranges from traditionalists like the Chieftains to punk rock firebombs a la the Dropkick Murphys, the Dubliners land somewhere in the middle, a combustible quintet who both revere and reconfigure their roots.

But on its latest disc, the rousing "With All Due Respect," the band finally lays down an album of smoldering Irish traditionals, which feels like a long overdue rite of passage for this bunch.

"We were between record deals, in the middle of a European tour, and we just jokingly said, ‘Maybe now’s the time to do that album that we’ve always kind of joked about doing,’ " Roberts recalls of how the disc came about. " ‘We’ll do it on our own and just throw it out there on the merch table.’ But it turned into a much bigger thing, because when we signed our next deal, the label decided that they wanted to do that record as well. So it was kind of the little album that could."

But it doesn’t sound like a little album. Instead, it’s a loud, hard-swinging affair, where standards such as "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" and "Weila Waile" get turned into even bawdier sing-alongs, sounding like a bar room that’s suddenly broken into song. They bring the heat next to slow-simmering ballads ("Raglan Road," "I’ll Tee Me Ma"), which could wring tears from a grapefruit.

Through it all, the band plays it closer to the vest than usual, rocking the tunes out, but keeping things very much in the spirit of the originals.

"We deliberately did not re-arrange and re-orchestrate some of the songs," Roberts says. "The idea was to give them as true a rendition as we could, with the exception of ‘Auld Triangle.’

"My mother is very upset with me," he adds, "because I always sang that song at parties and stuff, it’s an a cappella song, slow. We started doing it a cappella in the studio, and it felt a little bit cheesy. So we went in the complete opposite direction and punked it out. That was about the only one we took a bit of creative license with."

If the Young Dubs’ tunes are something of a hybrid, then, so is Roberts.

He still speaks with an Irish accent, but having moved here two decades ago, when he was more interested in becoming a journalist than a musician, he’s something of a bridge between two worlds.

Kind of like his band’s repertoire.

"I’m Irish, but I’m also America-Irish," Roberts says. "My wife’s American, and I had my son here. Now, when I go to Ireland, I’ll certainly feel a little bit out of it for a day or two, but then I’ll suddenly get back into it and realize, ‘Oh yeah, I’m home.’ But it’s a global experience now. I look out the hotel window and go, ‘Where the hell am I?’ You never know where you’re going to end up with us."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0476.

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