I first started listening to Flogging Molly in high school and my dad couldn’t quite figure out why exactly I was jamming out to Celtic folk music. But the appeal of Flogging Molly to a high school kid who played The Ramones on repeat becomes more obvious when you look at the influences of lead singer Dave King. He was the lead singer in a heavy metal band featuring members of Motorhead and UFO. He also cites the Sex Pistols and Freddy Mercury as influences on his young life. When listening to Flogging Molly you can hear the punk rock influences musically, but in their attitude it’s unmistakable. I don’t think anyone anticipated a Celtic folk-influenced rock band from Los Angeles to break out from Warped Tour in the early 2000s, just like my dad didn’t expect the music to connect with me. But they were overlooking what was important about the band – its spirit.
Stubb’s was packed Wednesday night to see these rock music veterans as they go out for I imagine their billionth tour. This was my fourth time to see them live, which I think makes them my most viewed live band (besides local favorites like Zlam Dunk). Every time I’ve seen them it’s been a great time, a hugely memorable show and good memories.
Before Flogging Molly came out the band The Drowning Men played a short but interesting set. The band members were dressed in a variety of early 20th century garb that made them look like extras in depression era movie. I figured they would sing some variant on the Flogging Molly Celtic good time music, but it probably had more in common with Radiohead than the night’s headliner. It was somber, drawn out indie rock with lyrics that came out as moans and guitar chords that moved along sleepily. It might not have been my first choice to open up for Flogging Molly, just because the two moods that they elicit are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But it was nice to have an opener that bucked some convention and left me surprised.
The anticipation for Flogging Molly was palpable. They might not have ever had the one huge radio hit or have sold out stadiums, but the fan base they do have is dedicated and eager. They could probably never release another album again and most of the fans at Stubb’s Wednesday would still be going to their live shows 10 years from now.
When they came out the audience erupted and the band went straight into song. They surprised the audience with a new number, the title track from their album The Speed of Darkness. It went over well with the audience and it’s a solid track, but they really got the audience on board with the next song “The Likes of You Again,” an old favorite from their first album.
The band excels at songs that are remorseful but fun. They find the humor and joy in life while acknowledging the sadness and suffering. In fact, I think if they had a thesis statement it would be something like “Life sure can be painful and shitty, but try to smile and have a good time every now and then regardless.” This song serves in a lot of ways to define the rest of their discography. It’s about drinking away so many years of your life and watching people you know die as your own condition deteriorates. Though just from hearing the beat and melody you’d never have guessed it was a song so somber. People were dancing and shouting the lyrics and moving. That’s exactly what the band wanted too, they were here to make sure people had a good time.
Anyone familiar with the Flogging Molly discography could not have been disappointed Wednesday. They played most of the fan favorites as well as a few other hidden gems and choice songs from their new LP. Highlights throughout the night included an acoustic version of “The Wanderlust”, “Factory Girls”, which is a sweet number about his mother, and “Don’t Shut Them Down” a rocking and fiercely populist track from The Speed of Darkness about diminishing jobs for the working class.
Between songs King didn’t mind stopping to chat with the audience, a one sided conversation of course, and reflect about what these songs were about. Sometimes this level of verbosity can inspire thoughts of “less talk more rock,” but King’s charisma and personality is one of the most winning aspects of the band. Besides, this is probably the closest any of the attendees will get to having him as a drinking partner, so we didn’t mind.
They rounded out the show by playing well-known jams such as “Salty Dog,” their first single and probably most riling number in a discography or riling song. The audience was lively and restless, but hopefully even the most timid attendees were dancing in their spots. Furthermore, it’s a real joy to howl along with thousands of other attendees as the song comes to a close.
Finally, closing out the set (before the encore) were two great songs. The first was “Tobacco Island,” about Oliver Cromwell’s efforts to relocate the Irish to inhospitable and barren lands. Even today Cromwell’s name is a vial utterance in the country. Then there was “What’s Left of the Flag,” about Ireland’s time of troubles. I don’t want to make any supposition’s about King’s views on this dark time in his home-country’s history, but I think the song reflects a fierce desire for peace and is a commentary on the pain and suffering blood shed causes. During the performance the band projected images of both pro and anti Irish independence propaganda, giving the song a good visual cue to go along with its themes of escalating violence.
I don’t think anyone is going to accuse Flogging Molly of great range – many of their songs are about similar subjects and King even joked about playing in the same key. But their fierce passion, good nature, and charm make them a timelessly and tirelessly enjoyable band.
(Flogging Molly performed at Stubb’s in Austin, Texas on April 27, 2011)