I saw them crossing the Hennepin Bridge as the sun set between the buildings of downtown Minneapolis—the Flogging Molly fans—in their clovered t-shirts and flat caps, eagerly anticipating the blend of Irish folk and punk from guitarist/vocalist Dave King and his wild band of merrymakers.
I stepped off 5th Street and into The Brick with them—the opener, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, rocked and rolled on stage. They’re from Indiana, but look and sound like they belong bellowing from the Spotted Cat in the New Orleans’ Marigny.
Just drums, washboard, and a revolving set of guitars—electric, resonator, cigar box. When I lived in Louisiana, I saw bands like them scores of times, but never did I hear one so loud. Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band tried to rattle the place down around us.
At some point after a rocker called, “Everything’s Raisin’ (but the Wages),” I came to and realized the stage was empty. The road crew was swapping amps and kits and NOFX’s “Franco Un-America” played through the PA. Then I noticed that the crowd around me was not made only of the people I stood with the last time I saw Flogging Molly, nearly ten years ago.
Affliction t-shirts, Oxfords, a done up older woman with an almost too-hipply cocked fedora, a haggard young professional who looked eerily like an ex-girlfriend.
Anyway, all those folks were mixed in with the Mohawks and the proud, buzzed-head Irish—people I knew would shout along to all the choruses and pogo and whirl in circles in the pit.
I got myself a $14 double-Jameson-neat and settled in. Soon, all seven of them, playing fiddle, accordion, guitar, mandolin, drums, and bass, came out to bright lights and cheers.
If the stage was a ship and the churning crowd the sea, Flogging Molly jigged and galloped about like the swashbuckling pirates they sing about in “Salty Dog” and “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Both of which loosed chaos contained only by The Brick’s thick walls—not by creed, nor ability, nor inhibition.
Flogging Molly played an admirable range from their now five full-lengths. From raucous fan favorite “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” to the contemplative “Float.” They broke out “Whistles the Wind” which King admitted they hadn’t played in a while, as well as a cover of “the best songwriter [ever’s]” “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The crowd swayed and sang along—the aging and punks and sports bar-jocks all.
King praised Dylan’s successful transition from acoustic to electric. I hope it wasn’t lost on many that Flogging Molly’s made a career with that same shift, the fusion of Irish folk elements—the fiddle, accordion, tin whistle—with punk.
But it was Dylan’s involvement in protest music that helped thread a new element into the show. Their website declares, “THE LIGHTS HAVE GONE OUT ON THE WORKING CLASS.”
For “The Power’s Out” King brought out a bullhorn and blared its siren into the microphone while red and blue lights spun behind them. It’s from their latest album The Speed of Darkness and begins with: “From the town of Detroit where my job is secure, yeah/secure in the face now that it’s gone for good, yeah.”
For the first time, Flogging Molly put to record songs that explicitly name and judge contemporary problems. It’s unsurprising, really. A Los Angeles Times article referenced King’s heartbreak and anger over the “loss of jobs and economic security that have ravaged his native Ireland and his adopted home of Detroit.”
Later from “The Power’s Out,” “Yeah the power’s out/guess it’s par for the course/unless you’re a blood sucking leech/CEO, CEO, CEO, CEO/the CEO must go.”
The working class anger continued in a couple forms throughout the show’s remainder, mainly in stage banter, though rarely deviated from CEO-bashing.
Flogging Molly’s made a career telling stories. Great stories. What separates the good storytellers from everyone else is their ability to get an audience to feel empathy for the characters in their spun tales. It’s empathy that makes great stories and ultimately changes hearts and minds.
There’s a line of advice for writers: show; don’t tell. There were stretches during Flogging Molly’s set when they violated that clichéd, but very true rule. They’ve made great records showing us the lives and struggles of others, made ever so moving with the misty Emerald-Isle scaling and instrumentation we’ve come to expect. This was only part of their show, but I think it is a helpful lens through which to understand where they and other great bands separate themselves. It’s how Flogging Molly cut through the many strata in America’s cultural and economic landscape with universal stories of hope and loss, struggle and celebration and love. Why I had a Celtic cross neck tattoo on one side and a white-haired Dockers Dad on the other.
I remember the moment when I reached the end of my drink. Flogging Molly was playing “What’s Left of the Flag,” a tribute to King’s deceased father, and the crowd’s voice rivaled his. The band was made of fallible people, playing music that mattered to them. Music about lives and a world that mattered so much sometimes their hearts led their minds astray. And that was all right.
I tipped my glass back and finished it all—down to the last, lingering drop.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.