Horslips were musical pioneers in their 1970s heyday and last night they showed that they were still happy to meet new challenges.
It would be easy for a band of their stature, only recently re-formed after a 30-year break, to tour arenas and festivals and trot out their best-known songs to keep the punters happy.
But to agree to rearrange some of the most iconic tunes in Irish rock music and play them alongside the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Brian Byrne, was a bold move – particularly as their Waterfront Hall concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster.
They have a rich source of material to choose from but last night concentrated on their two epic concept albums The Book of Invasions and The Tain, which also contain their best-known songs – Trouble, Sword of Light, Power and the Glory and Dearg Doom.
There was plenty of scope to experiment as Horslips were always more than a three-chord band, combining Irish trad with psychedelic rock and mixing electric guitars with fiddles, mandolins and electric organs.
The original albums were layered works with musical motifs running through the tracks to reappear and morph in new settings.
The band and the orchestra played well off each other, with the orchestra creating a wall of sound – particularly effective during the surreal experience of seeing classical musicians play Dearg Doom.
If there was a criticism it would be that their audience seemed to be confined by the formal setting – have you ever tried tapping along with a 60-piece orchestra?
An interesting musical experiment, certainly, but perhaps Horslips diehards will be looking forward to the next full ‘rock-out’ gig.
This review was written for and first appeared in The Irish News on March 18 2011.