Celtic punk band rocks Aragon

By Bradford Rogers

This weekend, Flogging Molly’s eighth annual Green 17 Tour brought the Celtic punk band to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. The band played a raucous set to a rambunctious crowd, making one thing clear: Whoever said you couldn’t play punk with an accordion, tin whistle, violin, banjo, mandolin, or acoustic guitar is a barefaced liar.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Flogging Molly is perhaps most famous for their incorporation of traditional Irish instrumentation. Irish-born lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist Dave King founded the band in the midst of Los Angeles’s 1990s music scene. Bridget Regan, who plays fiddle and tin whistle (and to whom King is now married), eventually joined the band, as did Dennis Casey on lead guitar, Matt Hensley on accordion, Nathan Maxwell on bass guitar, Bob Schmidt on mandolin and banjo, and George Schwindt on drums. The band got their start at L.A.’s Molly Malone’s, where they played weekly and developed a loyal fan base. The band’s name is in fact a tribute to the pub. Since 2004, Flogging Molly has toured annually on their Green 17 Tour, for which they play at venues across the United States.

For their stop in Chicago, the band graced the stage of the iconic Aragon Ballroom. The Ballroom has served as a staple of the Chicago music scene for much of the 20th and 21st centuries, memorable for its Moorish-style architecture and the interior’s resemblance to the Spanish village from which it takes its name. Saturday night saw the Ballroom packed full of Flogging Molly fans, an enthusiastic crowd of hard drinking, hard dancing, and chanting hooligans. From the band’s first note, the crowd was jumping, moshing, and screaming every lyric at the top of their lungs, certainly lending credence to the Ballroom’s informal nickname, “the Aragon Brawlroom.”

The band dusted off some classics like “Whistle the Wind” and “Life in a Tenement Square,” and debuted a tender new track, “A Prayer For Me in Silence” featuring fiddler Bridget Regan on lead vocals. High points of the show were Flogging Molly’s hits, including “Devil’s Dance Floor” and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” for which the audience nearly drowned out the band as they sang.

The evening’s showstopper was certainly the band’s rendition of their early hit “Black Friday Rule.” As they played true to Flogging Molly form, each member left one-by-one until guitarist Casey and drummer Schwindt were left together onstage. Casey then launched into an incendiary guitar solo, culminating in Pete Townshend-style guitar-smashing antics as Schwindt provided a frenetic punk beat. The two were joined again by King and the singer and guitarist faced off between dueling acoustic and electric guitar measures. Finally, each member came back onstage to conclude the hard-rocking song to the beat of aggressively chanting and stomping fans.

Molly’s set concluded on a high note with “Seven Deadly Sins,” an energetic pirate-themed punk ballad. As thousands of voices shouted, “We’re seven drunken pirates, we’re the seven deadly sins,” and the band wished Chicago good night, the audience was left wholly satisfied, if not with battered vocal chords and sore feet.

If nothing else, Flogging Molly’s set at the Aragon Ballroom demonstrates that when it comes to live music, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An epic band playing at an epic venue to an epic audience certainly results in one epic show.