Clevelanders know they have it good when temps hit the mid-60s at the ass-end of January. When Flogging Molly’s in town for a show a balmy winter night gets even better.
Rocking jam-packed festivals and theatres is nothing new for Dave King’s feisty seven-piece Celtic punk ensemble, which also includes his wife Bridget Regan (violin, flute, whistle), Nathen Maxwell (bass), Dennis Casey (electric guitar), George Schwindt (drums), Matt Hensley (accordion), and Robert Schmidt (banjo). The group sold out two shows at House of Blues Cleveland in 2008, two more in 2010-11, and filled Jacob’s Pavilion at Nautica last summer with Clutch.
Flogging Molly played to another capacity HOB audience last night as part of its ongoing Ninth Annual Green 17 Tour. The show followed a rare day off for the band, so King and company were well-rested and raring to go.
Appealing to the hard-working middle class has been part of the group’s modus operandi since King (ex-Fastway) started playing clubs with Regan twelve years ago in Los Angeles. Now, after a decade of rigorous touring behind a string of acclaimed studio albums, King’s got his own record label (Borstal Beat) and has amassed a devoted following.
The band took the stage with The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” blaring over the PA system, assumed their positions, and launched into “Another Bag of Bricks” (from their 2002 debut Drunken Lullabies). The one-two punch of “(No More) Paddy’s Lament” and “Revolution” followed, with King loosening his tie as the throng on the floor gyrated to the music, sometimes spilling bodies over the barricade and into the waiting arms of yellow-shirted HOB security.
The band’s sweaty set included old standbys like “Salty Dog,” “Rebels of the Sacred Heart,” and “Seven Deadly Sins”—but also drew from 2011’s Speed of Darkness. Emotionally, the disc is perhaps Flogging Molly’s weightiest release, an album of Irish-American punk anthems, torch songs, and ballads for troubled economic times.
Writing in the folk tradition of Johnny Cash but delivering with the same electrified punk aesthetic as The Clash, Flogging Molly steeps old-school Irish music (Chieftains, Dubliners) in today’s fast rhythms and blissfully noisy hooks. King’s acoustic guitar, Hensley’s Hohner squeezebox, Schmidt’s banjo, and Regan’s fiddle weave delicate melodies in and out of pummeling grooves laid down by the power trio of Maxwell, Casey, and Schwindt.
Darkness offerings like “Revolution” and “The Power’s Out” still bear the band’s trademark defiance while offering glimmers of hope amid the bureaucratic bullshit described in its lyrics. King’s verses are vignettes of homes in foreclosure, factories being shut down, electricity being turned off, and of soldiers fighting dubious battles overseas. Yet the redhead’s refrains are stamped with an endearing, stubborn solidarity that lift spirits, raises decibels, and get the blood pumping. And that makes the new songs terrific in-concert neighbors classics like “Kilburn High Road.”
“Rebels of the Sacred Heart” and “What’s Left of the Flag” from (2002’s Drunk Lullabies) rubbed elbows with the title track from 2004’s Within a Mile of Home. Fiddle-laden “Selfish Man” and tin whistle foot-stomper “Devil’s Dance Floor” represented 2000’s Swagger. “Requiem for a Dying Song” and “Lightning Storm” hailed from 2008’s Float.
Fans know Flogging Molly’s rank among the best-dressed professional musicians working today: Their vests, neckties and high collars provide a visual contrast to their breakneck wall-of-sound. Drummer Schmidt is the only member who dresses down for gigs, favoring tees and track pants to facilitate maximum movement behind his kit. Skateboarding personality Hensley runs his own clothing line, Innes. He’s also a restauranteur.
King—a Dublin ex-pat whose brogue-heavy banter still contains traces of his home—doffed his jacket four songs in and danced like a jackrabbit when not stuck singing at the microphone. Maxwell thrummed his instrument like a bassist in a hardcore band. Casey tickled notes from his Gretsch White Falcon guitar and kicked up his heels while Schmidt bounced alongside in bowling shoes.
It was another high-energy performance from the band, another over-too-soon show whose moments of tender respite (“Float,” “So Sail On”) were few and far between. Still, King and Regan’s duet (“Prayer for Me in Silence”) made for a nice intermezzo, and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” was a fitting lump-in-the-throat closer.
English five-piece Skinny Lister warmed things up with forty minutes of Zydeco-influenced punk from their debut Forge and Flagon. Like the headliners, the uppity London group employs traditional instruments (concertina, mandolin, etc.) in crafting a jubilant uproar. But the band’s visual centerpiece is singer Lorna Thomas, a pretty brunette who spun like a dervish in a summer dress and offered fans a swig from the group’s ever-present jug. Anyone curious about the band’s mission could look to its double-bass—which read “This Machine Kills Dubstep”—or to its sole drum, whose skin bore the motto “Rock or Die.”