Tempe Beach Park
Thursday, March 17
With all of indie folks invading Austin to schmooze and snap photos at SxSW, the rest of us were left with what's become a Tempe St. Patrick's Day tradition: watching Flogging Molly at Tempe Beach Park.
The band has been a staple each year, with this being their seventh annual stop (though not consecutively, skipping us in 2009 in favor of Chicago). As per usual, the crowd turned out, decked in green, ridiculous top hats, beads and bikinis.
When I interviewed Flogging Molly guitarist Dennis Casey for this week's New Times music feature, he mentioned that one reason the band plays Phoenix each year is the weather, and things couldn't have been more perfect in that regard. As the sun set and a pleasant breeze picked up, Flogging Molly to the stage to an AC/DC soundtrack.
Local Celtic rockers Keltic Cowboys (also mentioned in this week's music feature) opened the show, but from then on the rest of the bands displayed more variety than I was expecting.
Oceanside band The Drowning Men played straight forward indie rock, recalling Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire while leaning toward the blue-collar folk-punk of Against Me!. Moneybrother, who took the stage next, was even more surprising, sounding like Joe Strummer fronting the E Street Band.
But while the crowd was more than placated by the "Happy St. Paddys!" being tossed by both bands, it was clear that Flogging Molly's full on Gaelic assault was what everyone was waiting for.
There are exactly two types of Flogging Molly songs: Really goddamn fast ones, like "Selfish Man" and "Black Friday Rule," with blaring power chords and sawing fiddle, and slower, Pogues-style ones like where frontman Dave King gets to showcase his singer/songwriter side.
The band kept those songs mostly contained to the "acoustic set," a break in the middle of the show when they broke out "Wander Lust," "Factory Girls," and "So Sail On." It was a welcome change -- don't get me wrong, I get it, but without a belly full of green beer it was all sounding pretty samey -- and was a perfect showcase for the father/daughter dancing going on toward the back of the mosh happy crowd.
The crowd put up with the quiet jams, but only because they knew the loud ones would be back soon. They were, with hits like "Devil's Dance Floor" (with a bit of "Highway to Hell" tossed in at the end for good measure) and "What's Left of the Flag" given full airing.
All throughout the set, King sprinkled his Dublin charm -- "There's going to be a lot of sore heads tomorrow in Arizona!" "When you're a band like Flogging Molly, everyday is St. Patrick's Day!" "When you're Irish, you don't mourn the death, you celebrate life!" etc. etc. -- but his most poignant moment came when introducing "If I Ever Leave This World Alive," a "song about friendship."
It's easy to get cynical and bored about the whole Celtic punk thing (real easy), but I can see the appeal. Flogging Molly never stopped thanking their fans, and never stopped making the place feel like one big family party. Everyone got to pretend they were from the same place for a little while, and you know, that might be worth the hangover tomorrow.
Last Night: Flogging Molly at Tempe Beach Park
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Personal Bias: I didn't feel like spending the money required to get drunk enough to really experience the spirit of event.
The Crowd: Moms, dads, kids, bros, punkers, dazed Shamrock-costume-wearing weirdos, all in green.
Overheard in the Crowd: Well, read from the text screen between bands: "Anyone else not understand anything Moneybrother was saying?"
Random Notebook Dump: I could stand seeing these Moneybrother guys again.