For those whose idea of Irish music begins with "Danny Boy" and ends "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," St. Patrick's Day offers a perfect excuse to seek out its other, traditional forms: the rollicking tunes more authentic than green beer and as rich as a glass of Guinness.
Such songs as "The Wild Rover," the story of a reformed rogue, and "Whiskey in the Jar," about a bandit betrayed by his woman, are staples for the Santa Monica-based Dublin 4, a quartet of expatriates from the Irish republic's capital. They perform traditional songs on traditional instruments -- whistle, banjo, guitar, harmonica, mandolin and bodhran, the hand-held drum that looks like an oversized tambourine without the cymbals.
"We try to keep it as authentic as what you'd hear back home," singer and guitarist Mark Lambe said, "songs you'd hear in the streets of Dublin, rough and ready."
During performances, Lambe and his bandmates -- Paul Carr on bodhran, spoons and harmonica, Darren Corcoran on banjo, mandolin and whistle, and Tony O'Keeffe on vocals and guitar -- will explain the stories behind the songs they offer and translate when they lapse into Irish.
But they're performers, not professors, so their playing is mainly aimed at getting the audience dancing, singing and having a good time. Lambe said the traditional Irish songs work better than the heavy metal he used to play.
People "light up a lot more to this music," he said, and whether the fan is 16 or 80 years old, "each of them has the same kind of smile and tapping feet. We get a buzz off it."
The Dublin 4 will play St. Patrick's Day at Sonny McLean's, the Santa Monica pub where the group played for the first time, last year on the holiday. Although the four members have been friends for some time, they decided to play together when they attended a wedding for O'Keeffe's brother in Waterford, on Ireland's southeastern coast. Having spent an evening in a 15th century castle listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, they began singing a few ballads together, then got to talking about forming a band.
"It was mostly drink talk -- 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. We'll make a million bucks,' " Lambe said. "When we first started out, we got a compliment: 'You guys aren't the greatest musicians in the world, but you put on a great show.' "
They chose their name not just because they're a quartet; Dublin 4 is also a sort of ZIP Code in that city, he said. "The joke behind it is, that is where all the upper-class people live," Lambe said. He said when real Irish hear them sing, they note their accents and say, "You're not from Dublin 4."
With friends in such bands as the Young Dubliners plugging in and veering toward rock, Lambe said, it's not as easy to find acoustic, traditional Irish music in the Southland as it is in the Bay Area or the Northeast, both of which have large, long-established Irish populations.
Damian Hanlon, manager of Molly Malone's, an Irish pub on Fairfax Avenue, bemoans the fact that few people look for the music except on St. Patrick's Day.
"It's too bad it can't be supported throughout the year," he said, because once people hear the jigs and reels, "they're bonkers. They just love it."
St. Patrick's Day music
The Dublin 4: Joxer Daly's, 11168 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 3 to 6 p.m. Free. (310) 838-3745. Also, 8 p.m. at Sonny McLean's, 2615 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. Free. (310) 449-1811
The Young Dubliners: House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. With the Mahones and the New Breed Orchestra. 9 p.m. $22.50. (323) 848-5100.
The Fenians: Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. With Irish dancers. Noon to 2 p.m. Free. (213) 847-4970. Also, 8 p.m. at House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. $24, advance; $27.50 at the door. (714) 778-2583.
Ken O'Malley & the Twilight Lords: Molly Malone's Irish Pub, 575 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. $5 before 5 p.m., $13 after. (323) 935-1577.
The Exiles: Joxer Daly's, 11168 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 6 to 10 p.m. Free. (310) 838-3745.