On Stage: Flanagan Brothers

By Darrell Ray Elmore

Remember when "Unplugged" was just plain "Acoustic?" I was in O'Shea's Traditional Pub (sometimes referred to as O'Sheas's Irish Pub) up on Baxter Avenue (where the Bluebird Cafe used to be) the other night and caught an act by two good ol' boys from Madison, Indiana — Mark and Darrell Hewitt, formally known as The Flanagan Brothers. (Tom O'Shea told me that was just a name they thought up on the spot, because it s supposed to bean Irish place and all, but so what.) One of 'em was kinda heavy, in a beefy kinda way, but seemed naturally comfortable behind his guitar. The other had a silver-fox/Charlie Rich thing going on with his hair.

Anyway, these guys were doing an acoustic thing, one playing guitar, the other cranking on a 5-string acoustic bass and I thought to myself, "Hey, these guys sound pretty good!" Oh sure, so they were doing John Mellencamp covers and some other cheesy stuff, but the guy singing — it was either Mark or Darrell — had an incredible voice and l thought to myself, "Yeah, so maybe I L1KE John Cougar Mellencamp ... so what?"

Then this guy at the bar orders up one of them there "yards of beer," and everybody in the place quit listening to the performers and zeroed in to see whether or not this guy could drink all that beer.

They serve it in these great big, long glasses — at least 36 inches worth — with a neat little bulb at the bottom (to catch the backwash, I reckon). So the guy with the beer (he was kind of short and stocky) takes off his shirt and ups that incredibly long glass and starts to drinking. You could have heard a pin drop. Even The Flanagan Brothers quit playing and stared. The guy was a-chugging and a-gugging — his stomach was pushing out farther and farther, becoming obscene in its ponderousness — and the crowd was quite literally going wild.

Then Darrell (or maybe it was Mark) swung into a Nirvana cover and I just about fell off of my chair. These boys proceeded to play the entire Nirvana Unplugged in New York catalog. Picture-perfect covers and a haunting recreation of KurtCobain 's long-gone voice sent chills up my spine. The beer drinker's performance at the bar was for a moment overshadowed by the quality of music pouring off the stage. My attention was split, I was in a quandary: Hang on every note of "Penny Royal Tea"? Or scope out whether the power-drinker could quaff more alcohol in one gulp than is natural?

Would he blow chunks, or would The Flanagan Brothers finish up "Come as You Are"?

It was a tight race, but the Flanagan boys won it, I think. They finished up their set with a grace and dignity becoming finely skilled musicians, whereas the guy with no shirt left at least three inches of dark brew in the bulb at the end of the glass before he raced off to the bathroom to relieve himself (the manner of which is best left to the reader's imagination).

Anyway, Tom told me later that the Flanagan Brothers (no relation to the angst-filled Danny Flanigan of Rain Chorus fame), have a regular gig with a five-piece band called Third Degree up in Madison, but are planning on being at O'Shea's Thursdays in July. So, if you get a chance, check 'em out. And if you've got the courage, try downing one of them Yards of Beer ... just don't drop the glass; I hear they cost like fifty bucks.