“Being an Irish boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve had fun on a Sunday like this.” – Flogging Molly lead singer Dave King, during his band’s rocking Portland concert on March 11, 2012
Flogging Molly has for 15 years distinguished itself by bridging some unusual divides. They blend traditional Irish, Celtic, and folk sounds with fast-paced punk rock. They mix somber lyrics on themes like religion, death, poverty, and Ireland’s tumultuous history with an energetic, boisterous sound that gets the listener’s feet stomping within a few notes. The socially conscious music would make as much sense at a political rally as it would the pub. It’s a fine line, one that Flogging Molly has learned to walk effortlessly over its 15-year history.
The seven-piece outfit brought together those wildly disparate elements on Sunday night for a sold-out show at Portland’s Roseland Theater. The first few notes of opening track “Drunken Lullabies” had the crowd pogo-ing off the floor like it was a bounce house — including your esteemed writer — and save for a trio of slower acoustic numbers midway through the set, the energy didn’t let up over the next hour-and-a-half.
“Ah, but maybe it’s the way you were taught
Or maybe it’s the way we fought
But a smile never grins without tears to begin
For each kiss is a cry we all lost”
Those contradictions shone through early and often on Sunday. King dedicated “The Likes of You Again” to his father, who died 40 years ago. He later led into the driving song “The Power’s Out” with an angry screed against Wall Street. He went on to introduce “Oliver Boy (All Of Our Boys)” as a song about a man (Oliver Cromwell) who wanted to wipe the Irish race off the face of the Earth. King’s description was met with boos before he delivered the celebratory punchline: “Well, he didn’t succeed.”
Not all the tracks were downers. Take King’s ode to friendship “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.” The track, which launches with the lyrics “If I ever leave this world alive, I’ll thank you for the things you did in my life” made for a passionate, heartfelt 1,500-strong sing-along. Elsewhere in the band’s catalog, positive lyrics touched on overcoming the odds and surviving the tough times.
I can scarcely think of a chattier lead singer than King. He held up a red plastic cup of Guinness between most songs, toasting the crowd for being so loud — “You’re not the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for, but you bastards are the fuckin’ loudest” — and talking about the meaning behind most tracks. King’s chattiness and gratitude certainly gave the show an intimate, personal feel; the band rarely went two songs without some kind of between-song banter, all of it entertaining and engaging.
King mentioned no fewer than five times how loud and energetic the crowd was. He happily pointed out a front-row fan in a Led Zeppelin hoodie, mentioning that he was singing along to every word. King took the gesture one step further by leaning over the security barrier to shake the fan’s hand.
It was a touching moment that summed up what stands out about Flogging Molly at this stage of their career. The band got together in 1997; it would be easy for them at this point to take the shows for granted, trot out 90 minutes of tracks, and call it good.
But no band I’ve ever seen so clearly enjoys playing together and performing before appreciative crowds. The crowd sang along to every word, jumped around, threw and their hands in the air all night. And the band fed off that energy from the first note of the first song.
They would needle each other between songs, dance while their bandmates soloed, and interact with the first few rows of fans through the whole set. King himself — going strong at 50 — would put down his acoustic guitar on occasion and dance to a violin or banjo solo. And if he was in the middle of playing, King was busy high-stepping and jumping around the stage — smiling wide through every second of it all.