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"You’ve Got to See This"

I had been hearing it for months. “You’ve got to see McKenna in St. Catharine’s” they would say. “Get your butt down to one of the shows at Patrick Sheehan’s” they’d tell me. Now I’m all for a good party, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve seen McKenna before. I’ve seen them more than once. I’ve even seen them play before an audience that’s really familiar with their material. I get it. They’re great showmen. It’s a hell of a good time. I know; I’ve been there. So excuse me if I don’t rush down the Q.E.W. to some college town to see them play at some college pub. What difference can the bar make --- it’s going to be the same guys, the same tunes, the same show. They’re a great band but, like I say, I’ve see it.

So what made me change my mind? What made me truck half-way to Niagara Falls to see these guys for something like the 300th time? Well, maybe it was the fact that the brothers McKenna would be playing with some really fine musicians that night, doing “full band” rather than “acoustic duo” stuff. Maybe it was the fact that they were doing another all-originals show, promoting the new album “Harlots and Savages”. Maybe I’m just a sucker for good beer and a great night out. Whatever the reason, I found myself at The Merchant Alehouse in St. Catharine’s last Sunday night, hoping the event would live up to the hype and wondering (sometimes aloud) whether or not it could.

In place of an opening act there was the loud buzz of an anxious crowd. A slow but steady stream of people gradually filled the bar, clasping each-other in familiar embraces and smiling warmly as friends met friends of friends, and the bar became a milling mass of little groups and cliques exchanging members with each-other. The low murmur of bar chatter grew to a cacophonous symphony as the pub took on more and more patrons, like a capacitor taking on a charge. The pretty girl I was chatting with couldn’t hold my attention, nor could the excellent micro-brew on tap. I was getting caught up in that feeling of anticipation. My spider-sense was tingling. Something extraordinary was about to happen.

Mics checked, guitars tuned, obligatory hello and thank-you dispensed with --- McKenna opened with “Accident Song”. It knocked me on my ass. It hit harder than I’d remembered. It was tighter. It was more potent. Like when you don’t drink tequila for a while, then do a double shot. Except this wasn’t tequila; it wasn’t harsh, bitter, or raw. And it definitely wasn’t frat-boy. It was mature. It was clean. It was like a bright, bold, single-malt scotch. The last chord hung in the air for a tiny eternity before the stunned crowd could collect themselves --- then the thunder started. All the anticipation, all that build-up energy, poured out as applause and cheers. Cat calls, and wolf howls and whistles rang over the roars of clapping hands. ‘The night’s just getting started’ I thought. I finished my drink.

After a couple more rousing, high-octane songs, the band stopped to call for a “Sociable” --- a traditional toast in which the whole bar raises their glasses in a celebratory salute and then tipples one down. It’s a custom all McKenna fans are quite familiar with, but something was different this time… in this place. Before the toast was over, a sternly-shouted, military-style drinking chant was raised, courtesy of the Bomb Squad, the boys from a local rugby football team. Then some women from the crowd answered back, echoing the men. And, just like that, the evening reached its tipping point and started, inexorably, down the road to outright rowdiness.

Things began to un-spool, slowly at first, but picking up speed and momentum like a cartoon snowball rolling downhill, growing larger and less controllable by the minute. The place heated up. Women shed their coats and started dancing. Guys bought drinks by the bucket. Women drank them. More “Sociables” were called. And the cycle continued. The dance-floor was packed with girls dancing and guys pumping their hands in the air. All that friction only made for more heat. More heat lead to more beer, and less clothing. Even those still seated found ways to dance in their seats, the whole placed throbbing and pulsating to the music. All eyes locked forward, even when the throng on the dance-floor made it impossible to see the band anymore. It was chaos, but it was controlled chaos.

Ringmaster to this circus was lead singer Ryan McKenna. A university-trained actor, Ryan’s stage presence held sway over the eyes of the mob, while Joel’s relentless guitar, Tom’s rhythmic bass, and Danno’s crashing drums controlled their bodies like puppet-masters pulling the strings on an army of sweaty marionettes. The rugby boys added just the right touch of soccer hooliganism to really drive home the pub atmosphere, but it was good-natured rowdiness, devoid of any violence or anger. The place was at a fever pitch, thumping, hummi - A McKenna concert review by Dean Pearson

"Ever So Lucky"

As music-lovers, we are usually faced with an unpleasant choice: see a big-name band and get professional showmanship, or see an up-and-coming band and get a more personal and connected experience. Big name usually means big dollars; unknown band usually translates into unpolished, garage sound. That’s why it was such a refreshing treat to take in McKenna at their recent “Harlots and Savages” show at Humber’s Assembly Hall.

The intimate venue, sparse yet flexible set, and well-managed lighting gave the feel of a private dinner party or small, musical theatre production. The fans (most of the audience members had seen McKenna previously, some having traveled a great distance for the show) were vocal and highly interactive with the band. Conversations ran both ways, to and from the stage, and combined with the witty interplay between the brothers McKenna to create enjoyable sub-plots of humour and playful sexuality.

Musically, the evening was a play in four parts. Hidden gem Mandippal Jandu opened the show with his breathtaking vocals and gentle, honest songs. His bare, heartfelt performance adeptly set the mood for the act that followed - our first taste of McKenna. Performing as an acoustic duo, the brothers McKenna held the audience captive with their easy style and artfully crafted music. Most of us felt we had enjoyed a full show by the time Ryan announced intermission.

Upon return the audience was greeted by Mani Khaira, whose piano filled the stage in much the same way his songs filled the room --- making both seem smaller by comparison. Mani’s larger and more dominant sound helped to prepare the audience for our second taste of the headline act. Just as Mandippal had before him, Mani gave the audience interesting and entertaining music, but the night truly did belong to McKenna.

For their second set, the brothers McKenna (Ryan and Joel) were joined on stage by bassist Tom Nemes and drummer Danno O’Shea for some straight-ahead rock & roll, and by Danielle Oegema whose electric violin lent additional depth and emotion to selected songs. The band’s music ran the gamut --- from stripped-down personal confessions, to bold and encompassing reflections on life; from southern gospel jubilees, to stadium rock anthems. Regardless of genre, the songs were delivered with style, musicianship, and, most of all, showmanship. And while the music may have been the main course for the evening, it was the delightful side-dish of charismatic audience interaction that set this show apart from its would-be contemporaries.

Woven throughout the music was a strong thread of comic entertainment --- Joel’s wry wit and observational humour punctuating Ryan’s amicable and avuncular “straight-man” routine. It was this thread that pulled the whole evening together. With Ryan serving double duty as both performer and host/emcee, the audience was served a full measure of his charisma --- and his hold on the audience was put to good use. Ryan’s call for a little “Booty Shaking”, prior to a mini-set of particularly rhythmic rockers, was met with more than a dozen ladies from the audience rushing down the aisles to dance before the stage. The night’s overt interactivity created an almost “Rocky Horror” feel. The recurrent atmosphere of musical theatre reached its culmination with the finale as, unbidden by the band, some 20 to 30 ticket-holders filed from their seats into the open area before the stage. Arm in arm, they proceeded to sway back and forth, singing --- like a huge, ensemble cast --- to the hauntingly tragic “Guinness for Two”; a song that is both the band’s most famous and their most beautiful. It was an ideal closer for a show that had artfully mixed adrenaline with laughter and tears.

The fledgling production was not without its technical difficulties, including the complete malfunction of one microphone; a problem that was professionally and genially handled, and eventually resolved by the contribution of a couple of batteries from a member of the audience. Still, it was impossible to hold such small glitches against the band, considering how thoroughly we were being entertained.

Taken as a whole, “Harlots and Savages” touched on multiple senses, all emotions, and a wide variety of musical styles. It was not so much a show, as an experience. McKenna presents that rare, musical treasure: a small and intimate show with the professionalism of a big production. If you are ever so lucky as to see them live, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

- A McKenna concert review by Dean Pearson


Harlots and Savages
Make Love
Give the Man a Hand (as Father's Property)



Our names are Ryan and Joel McKenna. We are brothers who have performed together on stage for almost ten years. Our show is based on explosive and interactive entertainment. We perform traditional pub songs, recognizable modern hits and fan-favorites from our own albums.

Every McKenna performance is inviting and full of energy. Each evening is carefully timed to bring each audience member together for a collective crescendo. This strategy is rooted in the pub culture. Every person should feel at home and among friends when they spend a night out. This encourages them to visit repeatedly and to participate enthusiastically. We work hard to create and maintain this atmosphere in every place we perform.

We have performed in almost every corner of Ontario and we are aggressively expanding an ambitious touring schedule. We have self-produced four full-length albums, a live concert DVD and a music video for our song Guinness for Two that has enjoyed radio airplay and repeated national television exposure on MuchMoreMusic. Our website, is constantly evolving and is seeing an ever-increasing level of involvement from our loyal and growing fanbase.