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Flogging Molly barrels through Cleveland on final Green 17 Tour

Flogging Molly's Green 17 tour barrels through Cleveland for the last time.
Flogging Molly's Green 17 tour barrels through Cleveland for the last time.
Peter M. Roche

Flogging Molly concert at House of Blues Cleveland 3-4-2014

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Flogging Molly brought their drunken lullabies back to House of Blues Cleveland yesterday for an unforgettable Fat Tuesday blowout to bookmark the 2014 pre-Paddy’s Day concert season.

Dave King takes in the crowd at HOB Cleveland.
Peter M. Roche

Hopefully, the show will also mark the beginning of the end of this frigid goddamn weather.

The L.A.-based septet is in the middle of its Green 17 Tour, typically booked around this time each year to celebrate all things Irish. Rumor suggests this will be the “final round” for the decade-old tour, but redheaded singer / guitarist Dave King assured FM fans his group isn’t finished road-tripping just yet.

Indeed, relentless touring has been Flogging Molly’s lifeblood since its inception at the turn of the century, when Ireland expat King—a former member of the hard-rocking Fastway—changed direction and began writing Celtic-tinged folk songs for the L.A. pub circuit. One by one, King took on talented partners like Bob Clark (banjo and mandolin), Dennis Casey (electric guitar), and George Schwindt (drums). Skateboard king / Innis Clothing proprietor Matt Hensley plays accordion. Bassist Nathan Maxwell started off a fan—who crashed early FM shows while still an underage teen. Fiddler / flautist Bridget Regan eventually became King’s wife.

Taking its name from a bar whose owner granted the upstarts an extended residency, Flogging Molly carved a niche with its rousing Tartan anthems and incendiary sham-punk. The sound and image projected onstage were unique: A hard-rock band with a squeezebox and banjo orchestrated by a rambunctious, bespectacled, fiery-haired southpaw guitar player. Transcending the “novelty act” label on the strength of King’s hooky songs and intriguing lyrics (which skillfully meld the personal with the political), the group cultivated a loyal following with early Side One Dummy releases Swagger (2000), Drunken Lullabies (2002), and Within a Mile of Home (2004).

Word of mouth spread quickly as FM trotted the globe, sharing stages with Green Day, Gogol Bordello, Reverend Horton Heat, and Clutch. The band popped up regularly at all the big festivals—Rock Am Ring, Pinkpop, Roskilde, Open Air, and Reading—and became favorites on Vans Warped Tour summer dates. Audiences had swelled by 2008’s Float. After issuing a well-regarded live CD / DVD, King and the gang launched their own label, dropping the recession-inspired Speed of Darkness on the Borstal Beat imprint in 2011.

Without new material to promote, the Guinness-gulping troubadours are free to cherry-pick from their growing catalog for Green 17’s last go-round. All Flogging Molly studio albums were evenly represented Tuesday—from Swagger through Speed— with the band opening with 2004’s blistering “Screaming at the Wailing Wall” and 2008’s hard-charging “(No More) Paddy’s Lament.” Ringleader / soothsayer / healer King was his usual kinetic self, strum-torturing acoustic guitars all night and dancing around when verses weren’t pinning him to his microphone. King, dressed in an all-black suit (he ditched the jacket and rolled his sleeves early on), was a fiery Irish Johnny Cash analog—a dervish-poet with no internal “pause” button when it comes to stage presentation.

Folks cramped on the floor gyrated and pogo-danced to the music, and it wasn’t long before bodies began toppling over the barricade and into the waiting arms of HOB’s yellow-shirted security staff. One young feller passed overhead by revelers wore a lavender headband, distinguishing him from other airborne figures spilled forth.

“Oh, look!” observed King. “It’s a ninja!”

Later, the vocalist awarded props to the HOB security guards themselves. He singled out lean, shorn-headed Jeff Lipinski for special commendation:

“I just want to point out that this guy down here is a real bad-ass!” praised King. “He’s always right there on top of things!”

The cautious front man asked the standing ticket-holders to look out for one another: King recalled a show-stopping incident that occurred here five years ago that sent one unlucky bloke to the hospital with a fractured skull. King himself took pains to scan the writhing mass for sings of danger even as he wailed, and at one point paused to inquire about some broken glass down front. Was it okay to continue?

It was.

Casey kicked up his heels while cranking guitar power chords on “Every Dog Has Its Day” and “Revolution,” and stomped on an overdrive pedal for added bite during his few solos. Schmidt—who still favors bowling shoes—plucked and strummed a banjo whose skin bore a Sharpie tribute: “This Machine Honors Pete Seeger.” King later dedicated a song to the fallen folk icon.

At stage right, Maxwell pumped his bass and Hensley manhandled his Hohner. Like Casey and Schmidt, the chaps shared one mic for background vocals on “Whistles the Wind,” “Drunken Lullabies,” and other boozy barnstormers. King sent out “Life in a Tenement Square” to an old friend living in a seedier part of Dublin.

“That’s Dublin, Ireland—not Dublin, Ohio!” he clarified.

Raven-headed Regan tirelessly bowed away on fiddle but went woodwind later on, playing tin whistle on “Square,” “Rare Ould Times,” and “Devil’s Dance Floor.” She also sang with hubby Dave during a (relatively) low-keyed acoustic set, turning “Present State of Grace” and “The Son Never Shines (On Closed Doors)” into heavenly highlights.

Barely visible in back, Schwindt was a muscular metronome on drums, a bald-headed engine powering up-tempo tunes like “Saints & Sinners” and “Requiem for a Dying.” with his sticks, snare and kick-bass. And sweat.

The show’s latter half—comprised of pirate cantos (“Tobacco Island,” “Seven Deadly Sins”), sea shanties (“Float,” “Salty Dog”), and rebel songs (“Black Friday Rule,” “Rise Up”)—was no less feisty than the first. Encore “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” united band and fans for one last toast and sing-along.

One-half of Columbus, Ohio quartet The Dead is Dead opened with 30 minutes of guitar-powered Americana / garage rock.

Only half?

“We had automotive issues,” explained singer Josh Quinn of his missing mates.

Still, the two TDID guys who did make it into town did a commendable job riling up the FM faithful with their Gretsch-driven goodies and relaxed banter. Quinn pondered whether a rivalry exists between Cleveland and Columbus—and was loudly informed by early-arrivers that it’s Pittsburgh we don’t much care for. When Quinn offered the obligatory “F—k Pittsburgh,” the insult went over so well that he said he’ll consider using it other cities, too.

The Drowning Men filled their 45-minute middle slot with a selection of sleepy, theremin-decorated tunes hailing from 2012’s All of The Unknown and 2009’s Beheading of the Songbird. Fronted by capable vocalist / guitarist Nato Bardeem, the Oceanside, California five-piece gained steam gradually, reserving more upbeat numbers like “Rita” and “Courageous Son” for the end of their set.

Bardeem was accompanied by lead guitarist James Smith, bassist Todd Eisenkerch, drummer Rory Dylan, and keyboard player / organist Gabeliani Messer—whose fuzzy face and Russian Cossack cap made for an unusual look.

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