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Anti-Flag Finds Plenty of Machine to Rage Against in Obama Era

Every year, Flogging Molly storms into Tempe for St. Patrick's Day, performing to a sea of drunken revelers primed to let loose to the sounds of the band's Celtic punk. Flogging Molly never fails to bring a lineup of party-minded bands with them, and this year is no different: The roster includes SoCal reggae rockers Pepper and "green" advocates The Wiley One. But Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag, also scheduled to perform, is the black sheep on the bill. With politically minded lyrics and a streak of social advocacy and activism, Anti-Flag isn't the first band you think of when talking about "party bands," guitarist Justin Sane says.

"Anti-Flag is pretty well known for our live show being an energetic good time," Sane says. "Even though Anti-Flag isn't, 'content-wise,' what you'd call a 'party band,' I think we put on a set that's exciting and fun. In that respect, we fit in well on the bill. I'm Irish, so it just makes sense that we would play around St. Patrick's Day on that kind of festival. I'm literally an Irish citizen, so me and the Irish roots go way back. I gotta have a little bit of that in me every year."

The mix of "political" and "party" is, indeed, demonstrated by the band's catalog. The band's last LP, 2012's The General Strike, included strident, dense songs like "The Neoliberal Anthem," but there's plenty of humor to be found, too. The band's recent screed against cops, "Bacon," was packaged as a picture disc featuring the savory pork product, even though the band includes ardent vegetarians and PETA supporters. And lest the band be taken too seriously, there's always "Spaz's House Destruction Party," the happy-go-lucky pop-punk banger that added some levity to the band's seminal manifesto, 2001's Underground Network.

The song, a pivotal moment in the band's recent live sets, which commemorate 20 years of active duty, might be funnier than the band's ardent political songs, but it's no less factual, Sane says.

"We were playing in the basement . . .  and there's a line in the song: 'If you're crazy enough to make the house destruction party, then you know you're lucky that you lived.' That's really how I felt," he says. "Going out of there, I was like, 'Oh, man, I'm so glad I didn't die.' It really did happen where the cops knocked on the door to break it up. The girl opened the door and the cops started talking to her . . . the house was just demolished inside. The cop, all of a sudden, said to her, 'Is this the condition the house has always been in?' and she did say, 'Uh, yeah it is.'"

Though smart, funny songs keep Anti-Flag records from sounding too didactic, Sane's deadly serious about his role as punk's chief political reporter, a role he embodied hard during the lean years of Bush and the height of "Not My President" fury by the band's then label, Fat Wreck Chords. So have the Obama years given the band less to write about?

"When Obama was elected, we didn't suddenly just have a bunch of angels and puppies and kittens all over the Earth and everything was perfect," Sane says, citing the Obama administration's continuing Bush-era combat policies, the use of drones, and the treatment of Army whistle-blower Bradley Manning/Wikileaks. "On the other hand, he's done some things for gay rights, which is great. There are some areas in which I think he's done positive things and things I can get behind. I said it from the beginning: I never endorsed President Obama, never thought he was the answer, but I felt like he was a step in the right direction, and that's still how I feel about him."

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum

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