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October 31, 2006

Flogging Molly takes no prisoners, but also leaves no man behind

Flogging Molly filled the Riviera with a sea of green-clad, Guinness-drinking, jig-dancing Irish last Friday night. Or at least in spirit, everyone was Irish; when the entire crowd responded with affirmative enthusiasm to lead singer Dave King’s poll of the audience for Irish blood in the house, he replied in his hearty Irish drawl, “I’d like to see those DNA tests, eh!” Well, kiss me, Dave King—I am Irish!

The seven-member Irish punk-rock outfit enlisted three openers to get the crowd revved up, but it’s hard to pay attention to the opening bands when all you want to do is get your Irish on. The first band, The Whitest Kids U Know, had a solid punk beat that seemed promising, but I missed most of their rather short set on my quest for over-priced beer. The second opener, violin-infused punk rockers Zox, was doing all right until they closed with a mediocre cover of The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” that essentially just made me wish the Pixies were on tour instead. The third opener, Bedouin Soundclash, was, as their name suggests, an awful attempt at mixing reggae and punk rock that came out sounding like The Offspring would if they were a bad techno band.

Flogging Molly’s show was a fantastic blur of swirling bodies, fast rhythms, incredible amounts of other people’s sweat, and even a little blood. It was my virgin Molly experience, but the seasoned veteran I went to the show with tried to prepare me for the insanity that was to come. After a couple minutes of conversation about my previous concert-going experience, he cocked an eyebrow at me and said, “Liz, I don’t think you’ve been to a show like this before. Have you never even been in a mosh pit before?” Actually… no. I experienced a brief flash of nervousness—I’m pretty short, and don’t people die in mosh pits?

Nobody died, and it was incredible. I spent the first couple of songs getting my bearings and adjusting to the sensation of bodies flying at me from every direction. The first song I recognized was “Swagger,” and by that point I’d established the necessary stance of jumping and dancing with my arms up like bumpers to repel the ricochets of drunken enthusiasm.

Somewhere between “Selfish Man” and “Drunken Lullabies,” a guy came up to me with blood oozing from his nose and asked if he was bleeding. I only had time to give him a wide-eyed nod before he sneezed blood all over my arm. It was no biggie, though, because as soon as Flogging Molly started the next number some bulky guy in a white T-shirt plowed into me and took most of the blood with him as he went careening around the packed dance floor.

The crowd erupted in a frenzy of wild jumping and jig-kicking each time King introduced a Molly favorite, like “Rebels of the Sacred Heart” or “Devil’s Dance Floor.” Flogging Molly’s set was wonderfully engineered, so that whenever I thought my lungs were about to collapse from the heat, physical exhaustion, and constant impact, the pace would ease up with gentler songs like “Whistles of the Wind,” which gave everyone a much needed chance to catch his breath.

Flogging Molly’s set was nearly two hours long, but it felt more like two minutes. It was impossible not to get caught up in the blend of traditional and modern, where fiddle, tin whistle, and uilleann pipes meet electric guitar, bass, and intense percussion. The only thing that amazed me more than the pulsing music was the culture that accompanied it. It was like all the fans had made an unspoken pact with each other to be safe while getting caught up in the music. The pit was wild, free-wheeling, and close to being out of control, but whenever someone went down there were four or five others holding back the crowd and pulling him back up. For most of the show, I experienced alternating sensations of floating while pressed between other people’s bodies and spinning like a top. I made it out in one piece and only went down once; I was pinned to the ground for barely a second before a massive guy in a Marines T-shirt reached down, grabbed my arm, and effortlessly pulled me up and flung me right back onto the devil’s dance floor.