Concert review: A pageant at the Pageant, featuring Flogging Molly, Friday, June 8
The story of Flogging Molly begins not in an Irish bar in Dublin but at an Irish-American local scene in Los Angeles.
It’s a distinctly American tale too, that tells of a roving Irish musician, who at a young age (7) was given a guitar as rite of passage in a musical family, suffered the loss of his father not long after, moves to America to make his mark and spends his 20s grinding away for the regulars as an Irish musician with a repertoire of traditional folk and original Irish-style punk made so popular by the Pogues.
The loyal crowds grow, and Dave King and his merry band take the Monday Molly Malone’s show from the stage to the studio, dial the Irish up with fiddle and the requisite Irish themes of drink, lyrical penitence, more drink and maybe a pirate or two, and begin to make a name for themselves in a new and emerging genre called Celtic punk.
If that seems like a cynical take on a beloved band, it is, and apologetically so, because whatever you want to say about Flogging Molly, you inevitably find yourself handcuffed to the label Irish-American, in the way that cities all across this America celebrate St. Paddy’s day, with green beads and green t-shirts and an over abundance of beer. The band, like the holiday, both suffers and succeeds precisely because it is a stereotype and an archetype, and the term Irish-American doesn’t connote any authenticity to their country of origin as much as it signals a particular Celtic brand of Americana. Flogging Molly is a distinctly American invention and not an import, and quite frankly, that’s exactly why the band is so fun.
Dave King and his band are all about the show, and though it possibly bothers the Dublin native when he isn’t recognized on the Emerald Isle, I doubt he cares. The band sells records and schwag by the tons in America. Out of the 10 or so friends I saw them with, at least five were repeats who’d seen the band multiple times — either Floggers or Floggees, I couldn’t say.
Of the packed house at the Pageant, few remained sitting when the band roared through its latest material, and everyone danced when it struck up the classics. The Flogging Molly experience works well because while the venue may have grown, the show probably isn’t much different than the grinding Molly Malone days.
Dave King spent a lot of time shouting out about his audience, to his audience, for the benefit of the audience (“Hello St. Louis!!!!!” was heard enthusiastically from his mouth over 20 times). The guitarist and the banjoist kicked and jumped, sang on a single mic, rocked out with knees bent, gyrated along with the gaggle of groupies (definitely Floggees) in the wings. King’s conversation is a constant part of the show. He thanked his wife, dedicated a song to his departed father and then ripped an audience member a new one for wearing sunglasses for no reason in the space of five minutes.
Some devoted fans finds the band’s sensibilities a bit too pronounced. Flogging Molly’s latest album has social themes that border on the pointedly political. King has been known to preach from the stage a bit and the band’s newest release, “Speed of Darkness” has clear references to corporate greed and the 99%, including a rant against the bankers blamed for creating the economic woes. It’s not the overt songs for socialism of Billy Bragg or the rebel leftist rock of Joe Strummer, but it’s there in noticeable form.
To some in the crowd, this may have tainted the brand somewhat. Why ruin a fun time with politics, particularly if they aren’t shared? And it’s a fair question that King might want to ask himself in terms of the future of his show. It’s going to be hard to be Americana if you pose tough questions about America.