It’s as though Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger time traveled and went punk. But here we were, in 21st-century Los Angeles, lamenting a poor economy, mass unemployment and dire times in the key of A minor.
But when the voices of the dejected rise as one, it becomes a machine that kills fascists.
The inimitable seven-piece Celtic rock outfit Flogging Molly has always had a knack for riding the lyrical zeitgeist, despite its sound finding origins in centuries bygone. FM’s new album, Speed of Darkness (Borstal Beat), is an ode to the downtrodden workforce, birthed from the blue-collar hotbed of Detroit. It’s the city where the band’s married couple, front man Dave King and fiddler/flautist Bridget Regan, relocated—after departing the group’s original home base, which just happens to be Los Angeles. The five other gifted Molly men now dwell in various locales, so this concert at the Music Box in Hollywood was a resounding (unofficial) homecoming.
The green-clad fans were itching for this antidote to the Monday blues. The second King strummed on his acoustic the melancholy chords of “The Likes of You Again”, the audience exhaled in unison and released its corked madness in the form of a wall-to-wall mosh pit. Old-timey newsies caps flew into the air—guitarist Dennis Casey’s included—and Guinness was guzzled like Gatorade at the Super Bowl.
Though the collective’s material relies heavily on the darker aspects of life (poverty, death), its spirit is hope and glee personified. King, in his cheerful Irish lilt, mused on everything from talk-show host Conan O’Brien (“He’s a tall fucker!”) to the evolution of dance. As he reminisced about the Ramones first coming to Europe, he demonstrated, “We came up with a very spacing-saving (move)”, and he pogo-ed with the gusto of a gymnast.
Flogging Molly demands to be seen live in person. Their records are boisterous things to blast, but until you’re swept up in the frenzy of a friendly jig, you haven’t fully grasped what they are about. Take for example drummer George Schwindt. Though suffering from a broken hand, he tackled the skins like it was no problem (King supposed aloud that it was because of the high he was riding from finding out he’ll be a dad come December).
Plus, it was Regan’s birthday, so the house was soaked in good vibes (and a hefty amount of sweat). Precociously, she’d kick her hubby in the bum whenever he brought attention to her. It was for good measure, though: Regan plays the violin and tin whistle like she’s the Eddie Van Halen of classical instruments. She received hearty cheers as she blazed through “Devil’s Dance Floor”. King looked on adoringly, joking, “Come on, honey, we can be like Ozzy and Sharon”.
Their barnstorming brand of rock is irresistible. Even a few of the burly bouncers—in between lifting crowd surfers out of the human rubble – found themselves nodding along to Bob Schmidt’s turbo-charged mandolin riffs.
Opening band The Drowning Men also took a page from olden days. Hailing from Oceanside, California, these fellows all sported deliberately sculpted facial hair and most wore seafaring hats. But their songs were less like sea shanties and more like U2 meets Arcade Fire. The pulse of the drums could drive a pregnant woman to premature delivery. For a second-billed act, these Southland musicians sure were epic, layers of guitars accentuating singer Nato Bardeen’s soaring rasp. On keys, Gabelani Messer swayed left to right as though rocking on the hull of a ship.
If up until now you’ve missed the boat when it comes to Flogging Molly, get on board ASAP. Never has its uplifting messages of power to the people been more crucial. Never has a narrative on troubled times sounded so positive. Never has a banjo solo been so cool. And never had Los Angeles been so happy to welcome back its hometown heroes.