Reviews > Shows
Flogging Molly at the Starland Ballroom
The Starland Ballroom
It was a Friday night, and the crowd was primed to explode. Flogging Molly was happy to oblige. It was a night of punk-rock power, political anger, drunken revelry, and most of all a night for the visceral release that comes with acknowledging that this is a world of trouble that is often best negotiated with a toast to friends and a sardonic laugh. In other words, it was a night that exemplified the spirit of Flogging Molly.
On this Friday night in Sayreville, New Jersey, the most dapper band in punk rock took to the stage of the Starland Ballroom and drove an already rowdy crowd to new levels of frenzy with a Guinness-fueled blast of Celtic passion. Appearing just before 10:00 in a flurry of vests, ties, and slacks, Flogging Molly blasted through a furious two-hour set that left little room for air, and even less for rest.
Wasting no time in getting to the fan favorites, the band opened with “The Likes of You Again,” a song that progresses from its opening with Bridget Regan’s soft and sweet fiddle melody, and Dave King’s mournful dirge for his “Daddy-o,” quickly into a raucous and upbeat fiddle riff and a fast-paced story of drunken revelry. The opening tune was indicative of how the night would go: loud, fast, and above all riotous fun. King is a consummate front man and an unrivalled master of ceremonies. His blazer was gone by the first song, and his tie was loosened to the middle of his chest by the second, and he was officially in full swing. During the songs he pranced around the stage, hitting both wings and beyond the footlights, making as many connections in the crowd as possible, and in between each song he had a story, or a joke, or a dedication, or merely a toast. The stage was clearly his to command, and he did so with supreme comfort and confidence.
The band followed “The Likes of You Again” by raising the bar on speed and intensity with “Swagger,” off their classic 2002 Drunken Lullabies album. Comprised mostly of pounding electric Celtic folk, and accented by only a few refrains of lyrics, the song drove the rowdy Jersey crowd to new levels intensity. Sweaty bodies crashed together, and crowd surfers were tossed around in the air as the band continued to roar through their set. Surprisingly enough, not even a brand new song, “Speed of Darkness,” the title track off the band’s new album, managed to subdue the festivities. This was a crowd along for wherever the Flogging Molly ride would take it, and a band more than willing to push the crowd’s limits as far as they would go.
After reaching a seemingly untoppable crescendo with the raucous “Drunken Lullabies,” that ride took a slight breather with a palate-cleansing acoustic set of “So Sail On,” “Factory Girls,” and “Wanderlust.” The set was a nice reprieve from the speed and energy of the rest of the show—a chance to take a breath and rest the feet—but it didn’t last long. The show segued out of the mini-acoustic set into a mini-political set. After King dedicated the next two songs to the infamous Oliver Cromwell, the band launched into “Oliver Boy,” and “Tobacco Island,” two songs of anger and protest at the legacy of English rule in Ireland, directed towards one of its most reprehensible figures; Cromwell and his men slaughtered and deported thousands of Irish is the seventeenth century. Politics, and this particular brand of Anglo-Irish colonial strife, is rarely far from Irish art, and Flogging Molly carry that banner boldly and proudly. With their latest release, Speed of Darkness, much of their political anger has turned to the struggles of the contemporary worker in an volatile and exploitative economic climate: “I spent twenty-seven years in this factory,” sings King on “Revolution,” “Now the boss man says ‘you’re not what we need’/ The penguins and the suits know nothing but greed/ It’s a solitary life when you’ve got mouths to feed/ But who cares about us?” Just like the long tradition before them, Flogging Molly reserves much of their punk-rock anger and angst for the forces keeping the downtrodden and abused of society in their daily struggles, and that spirit infused much of the party in Sayreville.
Politics, of course, soon gave way to revelry, with the anthemic “Rebels of the Sacred Heart”—another classic Flogging Molly construction, opening with King’s dirge of self-loathing and Regan’s tin whistle, and building quickly to a pounding Celtic rhythm. Next came the rowdiest tin whistle riff in all of punk rock introducing “Devil’s Dance Floor.” Likely the closest thing this band has had to what we might call “a hit,” the song drove a party that seemed already overflowing its brim to inconceivable new heights. Bodies in the crowd crashed and flew around the floor, as King pushed his band further and further. Flogging Molly’s members mostly take a back seat to King’s leadership, but they are nonetheless a powerfully tight seven-piece. Guitarist Dennis Casey in particular nimbly finds room for his rockabilly-infused Celtic punk stylings, while aggressively pounding his strings and jumping around the stage. Bob Schmidt—the rowdiest banjo player in all of punk rock—is another standout in his slacks, pressed white shirt, and bowling shoes, picking his banjo and mandolin with the speed and precision that often give the distinctive Irish sound to this most Irish of rock bands.
The main set closed with a blistering run through the familiar and powerful “Salty Dog” and “What’s Left of the Flag,” and an encore of “Float” and “Seven Deadly Sins” offered no let down. A riotous and bruising punk rock show had come to an end, with a tired but elated audience, and a spent but beaming band, and something most unexpected followed: up came the house lights and through the PA came Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” The band danced around playfully, soon to be joined on stage by Casey’s small children. Schmidt left the stage and shook every hand in the front row. King laughed and pranced as he had all night. This show thus progressed through rowdiness, anger, revelry, and drunkenness, to post-show lighthearted whimsy. It’s surely a model for the essence of this band’s greatness. Amid the “proxy life” with “all the agro, all the pain,” this is a band always attuned to the space for release. That’s not a space that forgets toil and struggle, but rather a space of necessary, if only temporary, escape and revelry. That’s the ethos that underlies their entire musical catalogue, and that’s the spirit that fueled a gloriously rowdy night of punk rock in Sayreville, New Jersey.
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