Reviews

Flogging Molly + Hot Water Music + The Riverboat Gamblers

Matthew Wheeland

Drawing from the heritage of the Pogues, these boys up the tempo while maintaining roughly the same alcoholic bleakness.

Flogging Molly + Hot Water Music + The Riverboat Gamblers

Flogging Molly + Hot Water Music + The Riverboat Gamblers

City: San Francisco
Venue: The Warfield
Date: 2005-03-14

Flogging Molly
Hot Water Music
The Riverboat Gamblers
I spotted them from the opposite end of the subway car -- twenty-somethings with Guinness t-shirts and earnest, well-scrubbed faces. Those lads are also going to the Flogging Molly show. They may as well have been waving tickets and doing Michael Flatley impersonations. It's an interesting phenomenon, this Celtic rock thing. I first witnessed it at a Tempest show earlier in the year, when I was flummoxed by the diversity (of age, though not of race) of the crowd. Folks, aged five to sixty-five, were on the floor reeling, jigging, and mock-Riverdancing. It was a remarkable change from the low-key hostility and high-grade hipster aloofness I usually witness at a San Francisco crowd. Of course that show was nothing compared to Flogging Molly. Perhaps owing to the proximity of St. Patrick's Day, perhaps to the more aggressive and youth-oriented nature of Flogging Molly's "Celtic punk" music, the Warfield was pulsating with Irish energy. If you're the Riverboat Gamblers, you rock out; that's what you do. The Denton, Texas quintet opened the show promptly at 8 pm by dropping a bomb on the crowd. The band's straight-ahead punk rock brought the crowd to the bouncer's moat. Gamblers' singer Teko flung himself about like a man possessed, leaping on speakers, humping said speakers, and just generally freaking out. The crowd loved it. Normally at a show like this, the 2000-plus-capacity Warfield would be mostly empty or sluggish until well into the second act, but tonight the floor was full from the first beat. Forty-five minutes later, well after Teko had turned a stray office chair to his punk-rock needs, Hot Water Music came on and let the air out of the tires. No disrespect to the band, they played a solid set, but the crowd just wasn't going for it. The band's dense, post-hardcore sound was harder to grasp than Riverboat Gamblers' right-to-the-point approach, and it tended to drown out singer Chuck Ragan's gritty, ragged voice. Try as they might to muster the crowd with repeated mentions of the forthcoming headliner, the energy from the pit visibly dissipated with each song. And then Flogging Molly came onstage. Johnny Cash's "Sam Hall" played over the PA ("My name is Samuel/ And I'll see you all in hell/ Damn your eyes"), and ecstatic screams from the green-shirted, green-haired, green-accessorized crowd filled the hall. A self-described "Guinness-soaked musical body blow", Flogging Molly came out swinging. Though drawing from the same musical heritage as the Pogues, Flogging Molly ups the tempo and the attitude while maintaining roughly the same alcoholic bleakness. The band's first song, "The Likes of You Again", from their 2000 debut, Swagger, starts with delicate fiddling and singer Dave King pining for his long-dead "daddy-o". But it soon explodes into a typically raucous and nihilistic Flogging Molly tale of drinkin', desperation, and living life to the utmost, exactly what the crowd wants to hear. The band's latest album, Within a Mile of Home, has only been out for about six months, but fans cheered every song, old and new, as if it were the absolute pinnacle of musical perfection. Whether it was the balladry of "Whistles the Wind" or the politico-historical slave song "Tobacco Island", about the enslavement of the Irish at the hands of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, the crowd happily devoured every song, every utterance. And Dublin-born singer Dave King had lots to say to the crowd. Not only about Cromwell, but about how sad St. Patrick's Day is in Ireland: "On St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, we had to go to church and say hello to God," King told us. "But it's been a long time since I said good bye to God�." At which point the band launched into the stomping title track of 2002's Drunken Lullabies. King and company played to the passions of the crowd. They played the songs we wanted to hear. King gave San Francisco love. He gave America mad love, and gave President Bush, Oliver Cromwell, and the San Francisco 49ers the finger (which is OK, because everyone knows the Oakland Raiders are the punk-rock football team around here). So no matter that the openers weren't obviously Irish. No matter that it wasn't St. Patrick's Day. Flogging Molly could do no wrong, period. And who wouldn't drink to that?

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