Flogging Molly @ Spirit Center

Flogging MollyEnvisioning all manner of ghastly scenarios—heavy traffic, no parking, missing tickets, late starts—there was little urgency to arrive at Spirit by 8 p.m. Unfortunately, traffic, parking, tickets and timing all aligned and the Riverboat Gamblers were basking in the afterglow when I arrived. Buzz was they were really good and really tall. According to Hot Water Music, “They fuckin’ kicked ass!”

Hot Water Music has a reputation for bringing a lot of sizzle to the scene, so there were very high expectations as they took the stage. They played a decent set, culling songs off their new CD, The New What Next, as well as drawing liberally from their decade of highly touted material. Audience members moshed sporadically to the band’s melodic hardcore, but it felt kind of low-key. There was little interaction between the band and the fans. Although each band member performed with intensity and gusto, the overall ferocity one finds in Hot Water Music seemed to be lacking tonight—good music, just a little off the mark.

Flogging Molly just before St. Patrick’s Day in a venue overflowing with Guinness—could it get any better? Not tonight! It was one excellent performance, a bar band gone bonkers! The high energy mélange, brewing for the past seven years, featured guitar, bass, drums and the additional texture of accordion, mandolin, fiddle, tin whistle and acoustic guitar. Nearly 20 songs, from super swift rockers to ale-soaked ballads, made for a gratifyingly draining event. The sound was superb, the dynamics were right on, the conversation was salty and the show was pure fun!

Front man vocalist Dave King was in top form. At one point, he quipped, “You can’t be a heathen without being a Catholic in the first place.” This band has always put out a tremendous effort, and it’s really paying off now. Musically, Flogging Molly are seven highly talented individuals, exhibiting together glimmers of traditional Irish influence along with volatile punk underpinnings. Of note, generally drummers sit in the deep, dark recesses of the stage (unless you’re Marky Ramone in the Misfits…), but George Schwindt commanded attention with his powerful, straight ahead rhythms—very impressive.

They took everyone by surprise, opening with “The Wrong Company,” an a cappella tale of late night lament, then followed with the rousing “Screaming At The Wailing Wall,” both off the new CD, Within A Mile Of Home (on the wonderful SideOneDummy label). Dave’s vocals have certainly aged like the proverbial fine wine (or dark ale), and grown stronger and richer. Throughout the set, the prevailing mood was celebratory, as the music simply lifted you. The audience was absolutely crazy! The floor was packed, as people sloshed in jigs and jumps, it created waves of movement from one side of the sold out room to the other.

Throughout the hour-plus set, the audience was treated to Flogging Molly classics like “Drunken Lullabies,” “Rebels Of The Sacred Heart,” “Black Friday Rule,” and “Devil’s Dance Floor,” as well as new material, like the beautiful “Whistles The Wind” and the intense “Tobacco Island.” Dave unabashedly joked and cajoled with the audience sharing tales of his family and his childhood in Ireland, as well as jabs at American politics and references to the plight of the downtrodden through the ages. Flogging Molly paced themselves, going from utterly manic to delicately hushed, displaying great showmanship. With such an unusual array of instrumentation, one shudders at the prospect of how pretentious it could get, but never once was any aspect overdone. The instruments melded into one lush sound, with King’s vocals cutting through the music nicely.

It must be noted that Flogging Molly are not an Irish band whose sole purpose is to wear kilts and consume vast quantities of malt beverages and shout out lyrics about brawling and buddies (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Flogging Molly are authentic and original. Comparisons to any of their predecessors are misleading and somewhat inaccurate. King’s lyrics are thoughtful and reflective, as well as entertaining. And the sound…it pogoes into your ears and grabs hold, next thing you know, you’ve got dancing feet. Although it was a short visit, the Green 17 Tour left a lasting impression (and probably a lot of empty Guinness cans).