Tough times seem to suit Flogging Molly. The Celt-punk band, which played an early St. Patrick’s Day show on March 14 at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, has always trafficked in songs steeped in poverty, regret, heartbreak and, often, cheap whisky. So it makes a strange sort of sense that as the band gets older (fifteen years, give or take a few months), its songs would get even better.
No surprise either that frontman Dave King, a native of Dublin slum Beggar’s Bush, is right at home in a recession. Now 50, King seemed more willing than ever to offer up his opinions on the state of world affairs. His prognosis is grim.
Flogging Molly’s latest album Speed of Darkness was obviously conceived in the shadow of a failing economy, and for all of the septet’s good-natured beer guzzling and fist-pumping, King kept returning to those themes at the Denver show. From the populist stomp of “The Power’s Out” (sample chant: “C-E-O must go!”) to the bouncy deprivation of “Life in a Tenement Square”, the set felt at once modern and very traditional.
The dim, vintage Ogden set an appropriate stage for the show. An embarrassment of Guinness and Sailor Jerry rum huddled on every available horizontal surface (they may have been sponsors), and the capacity crowd ranged from teenaged punks to couples who looked to be in their 50s. While the actual status of the crowd was probably closer to middle class, there was a definite blue-collar vibe, especially near the increasingly packed and humid downstairs bar. The Ogden’s old-timey stage curtains added to the sense that Flogging Molly was just some neighborhood Irish band that had rented out the VFW hall for the night.
Opening act Brothers of Brazil left fans dumbfounded. The duo, apparently actual brothers from actual Brazil, engineered a strangely catchy train wreck of bossa nova, surf rock and rockabilly. It wasn’t clear whether singer/guitarist João’s Borat-like vocals were part of the act or not, but one thing was certain—his English lyrics didn’t make a lick of sense (“Play the samba like a black or white or red / Play the samba in your head”). They talked about the beach a lot though.
Middle band Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss looked like another deranged lounge act, but this one had serious SoCal punk history: Wheeler is in the band Throw Rag, while Schloss played bass for The Circle Jerks. Their set consisted mostly surprisingly sweet, countrified acoustic fare. Or rather, it did until Wheeler introduced a song called “Good Pussy” and dedicated it to all the ladies in the house.
Overall, neither opener captured the audience’s attention. While they got some hoots and hollers during especially odd and dirty parts, background conversations were clearly audible throughout. It was nice to see bands that weren’t just lesser clones of Flogging Molly. But a droll guitar-and-voice outfit like Wheeler and Schloss simply doesn’t generate the same energy as a seven-piece musical wrecking crew. One frivolous chill-out band might have been OK, but two was pushing it, especially for younger fans who came expecting a mosh pit.
Finally, around 10 pm, Flogging Molly rode to the rescue. The stage was already crowded with enough stringed instruments to fill a high school auditorium room when the band emerged and Bob Schmidt ripped straight into the banjo intro to “Drunken Lullabies”. In spite of a lengthy mic check, King’s vocals went out immediately … but the crowd was singing along so loudly that anyone beyond the second row (standing room only, naturally) probably didn’t even notice. Here was the moshing, and especially the crowd surfing. Half a dozen people tumbled their way over the security barrier within two songs, and the pace didn’t slow down for a while.
Bridget Regan, King’s wife and the band’s longtime violinist, was the calm center of an absolute tornado of slashing strings and pumping arms. Accordionist (and former pro skater) Matt Hensley rocked the bellows like a man possessed. And the bespectacled King held forth on social issues, at one point banging on a tabor for emphasis.
It was all an incredible amount of fun for something based on subjects so sad. Which in a way made it about as Irish as you can get.