It might seem counter-intuitive, but there is a common heritage between the various forms of folk music that have blossomed forth throughout history and the advent of punk rock. There is a shared simplicity in presentation combined with a sense of in-group camaraderie between these two art forms, not to mention that the settings of an olden village square vs. a raucous pub or musical venue after the spirit of CBGB circa the late 1970s differ more in dates than in spirit. They are both modes of expression where the odes of the common man are merged with rallies of discontent, thus it may well have only been a matter of time before a crop of daring artists would experiment with a hybrid of the two. One such example that would take root at the tail end of the mid-90s punk revival and the concurrent punk/ska craze was hatched by wayward hard rock front man turned Celtic folk trustee Dave King, and earned a reputation for getting the job done in the live setting well before their 2000 studio debut “Swagger” saw the light of day.
As such, with more than two decades of raising a merry ruckus in barrooms and concert halls from L.A. to Tilburg and beyond, it’s all too appropriate for this seven-piece fold of folksy minstrels turned heavy rockers to bring in St. Patrick’s Day with an appearance in Dublin. Naturally the circumstances might seem of a less festive character given the ongoing quarantine making a live, in-person audience impossible, but for those who managed to catch this event via that lovely wee thing known as the internet, nothing could have been further from the truth. An array of upbeat, frolicking melodies and bold tales of Celtic exploits were the order of the day, as the conventional sounds of a thunderous drum set, pounding bass and roaring electric guitars were accompanied by a playful and occasionally whimsical counterpoint via accordion, mandolin, violin and even occasionally a tin whistle when the mood became more pastoral. And there in the thick of it all was King, acoustic guitar in hand and a dexterous, soaring tenor at the fore to convey the tales being told.
Whelan’s Pub, situated in Dublin no less, would prove the ideal setting for this outfit to play to a virtual audience, as the old fashioned 1950s stylings and small dimensions provided for a very intimate experience. Following a humorous ad for Bushmills whiskey boasting that the old country had mastered the art of hard liquor nearly 200 years before Kentucky, the band enters the stage by being off stage, sharing a table and cycling through a series of jolly instrumental romps with a more traditional Celtic vibe in what can be best described as among the most musically pleasing warm-up session to precede the main event. Preceded by another comparative jab via advertisement at the history of American alcohol production compared to their Irish betters courtesy of Bushmills, the tempo and the decibels take a notable uptick with the band now on stage and their unique hybrid of fast-paced punk rock and noodling Irish folk tunes raise the roof clear off its hinges.
While Dave King continually garners the most attention with his animated stage presence and boisterous singing, one couldn’t help but be captivated by the sheer precision and smoothness of what’s going around him. The highly animated melodic hooks that circle about the verses and refrains, though largely centered on Bridget Regan’s immaculate violin work, are doubled seamlessly and further bolstered by Spencer Swain’s mandolin playing and also by Matt Hensley’s tight accordion performance. By the same token, Dennis Casey proves to be a bit more than a power chord hitting wingman and throws in a few standout lead performances here and there, often channeling the bluesy swagger and raunchy sound of the early 70s hard rock persuasion. And one would be remiss to let the tight performance of the rhythm section spearheaded by drummer Mike Alonso and bassist Nathen Maxwell go unmentioned, particularly when considering the often jarring shifts in tempo that often occur within these otherwise short and streamlined odes to Irish culture.
Pointing to a singular standout moment within this 105 minute celebration of drink and song would be an impossible task, as the whole bloody thing is executed in the most exemplary of fashions. Having said that, “Rebels Of The Sacred Heart” deserves a special mention for Bridget’s tin whistle performance alone, as does the monster of a grand finale that is the “The Spoken Wheel/Black Friday Rule” encore performance with the versatile abilities of each respective player being on full display. Though the depressing state of affairs due to the ongoing lockdowns still looms, like a good shot of whiskey and good company to match, the show put on by Flogging Molly on St. Patrick’s Day made it all disappear for a time. Like the holiday itself, this is a music that transcends its own roots and can appeal universally to folks of any persuasion, even an American descendant of the Diaspora such as yours truly, whose Presbyterian affiliation might make him a Scot in the eyes of many.
FLOGGING MOLLY Setlist:
The Likes of You Again / Swagger / Selfish Man / The Hand of John L. Sullivan / Another Bag of Bricks / Whistles the Wind / (No More) Paddy’s Lament / Drunken Lullabies / The Days We’ve Yet to Meet / Float / A Prayer for Me in Silence / Tobacco Island / Rebels of the Sacred Heart / Devil’s Dance Floor / If I Ever Leave This World Alive / The Seven Deadly Sins / Crushed (Hostile Nations) / Salty Dog / What’s Left of the Flag / So Sail On
The Spoken Wheel / Black Friday Rule