Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Gig Review: Flogging Molly at Morgantown Amphitheater, West Virginia 19/5/17 (by Lauren Stein)

Before Friday night, I had never heard Flogging Molly. I had heard of them, of course. They've been around long enough that it's pretty much impossible to avoid the name. And, technically, I have heard some songs in the past; a friend attending their Salty Dog cruise in March bombarded me with footage. But on that same boat Less Than Jake's Roger Lima was standing in for Eric Melvin and killing it with NOFX, so forgive me if my attention were elsewhere. I didn't have anything against the band itself; I just never really sat down to check out their music.

But I'm never one to turn down a show, so when a buddy was looking for company I gladly said yes.

That's how I ended up at Morgantown Amphitheater on a warm Friday evening, about to see three bands I knew nothing about. The amphitheater was located in a small park in Morgantown, about half a mile from its sister venue Mainstage Morgantown. It was a surprisingly intimate venue, divided into lawn, benches, and pit. I always like to be right up front where the action is, so we arrived early to check out merch (Flogging Molly gets bonus points for rad womenʻs shirts) and get a spot on the rail.

It was a good thing we did, since music started right at 6:30 with Dublin-born singer-songwriter Dylan Walshe. Walshe played a mix of his own songs in addition to some Irish and British folk songs. Clearly skilled on the guitar and with a solid voice, he provided an entertaining start to the evening. It was a shame that the venue was still mostly empty during his set; he was a solid opener.

Next up was The White Buffalo, who my friend was especially excited to see (their songs have been featured on the TV show Sons of Anarchy). This three piece group exuded stage presence and enthusiasm. I have literally never see a drummer smile so much. Their songs ranged in genre from upbeat rock and roll to depressing Americana, but they were always well-executed and enjoyable.

Around 8:30, as the sun was setting, Flogging Molly went on. As the band took the stage, I recognized a familiar face: bassist Nathen Maxwell, whose band The Bunny Gang had opened up for Less Than Jake earlier this year (they were good). Flogging Molly wasted no time in getting down to business and the stage erupted with sound. I hadnʻt realized how large the band was: seven members (two guitarists, drummer, bassist, fiddle, accordion, and mandolin/banjo). The result is an amazingly rich sound that immediately gets your toe tapping.

The music was fast and catchy and just plain fun. Frontman Dave King clearly loves what he does, and either heʻs younger than he looks or is in incredibly good shape, as he was bouncing around the stage in a way I wouldnʻt expect, including a bout of Irish dancing. Despite the energy that was flowing from the stage, the pit was surprisingly sedate. People barely moved at the beginning of the set and moshing was non-existent until about halfway through, when the band played "Devilʻs Dance Floor." Perhaps the crowd just needed time for the alcohol to soak in, as it was increasingly rowdy from there on out.

Most of the evening was somewhat of a blur; without knowing any of the songs or getting a setlist, itʻs hard to give a play-by-play of the night. Every so often they played a song from their upcoming album, Life is Good, which revealed a benefit of going into a show blind: I wasnʻt inherently biased against the new material! Letʻs be honest, though: if you know the band well enough to recognize the songs, you probably have a good idea of what their live show is like: crazy entertaining. By the end of the night, I was exhausted from dancing my butt off. The music was fun, the energy was infectious, and (eventually) the crowd was along for the ride.

Many (most?) people donʻt like the idea of going to see bands theyʻve never heard of. And I get it: tickets can be pricey, drives can be long, and time is at such a premium that people only want to spend it on sure bets. But sometimes, if you take a chance and give that new band a shot, or even just arrive early enough to hear the supporting acts, you can discover some new favorite music. Flogging Molly has definitely entered my music rotation and Iʻd absolutely go back next time theyʻre in town.

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