Aftermath tuned up for Flogging Molly Wednesday night with a Jameson on the rocks and Steve Earle's "The Galway Girl" on our iPod. One of those should be obvious. As for the other, we needed the whiskey because it was kind of a long day at the office. A few weeks back, Earle mentioned on his "Hardcore Troubador" Sirius/XM show that "Galway" is one of the few songs written by a Yank that Irish musicians (Sharon Shannon, for example) have adopted as their own. Flogging Molly, meanwhile, is an L.A. band that's become popular by dressing up music born in both the U.S. and UK, i.e. punk rock, in shamrocks and shillelaghs. In front of a rafter-packed House of Blues crowd that made most Mardi Gras gatherings look tame, Molly hit all its marks Tuesday night. In fact, the band hit them so well that at times they came across more as puppeteers than punk rockers. Luckily Dave King, Dublin expat and former heavy-metal singer, is an excellent ringleader behind either mask.
Aftermath is not calling Molly's credentials into question here. Far from it. The raw energy King and his companions radiated could have stopped a runaway Toyota Prius. But the set gave off the nagging, vaguely unsettling impression that Molly was pushing the crowd's buttons as expertly as accordion player Matthew Hensley was pushing his. The audience, personified by a young gentleman in a backwards green baseball cap, was only too happy to play its part. It resembled a game of Twister - Molly spins the song wheel, if the arrow comes up red, clap along. Blue, throw another plastic cup towards the stage. Yellow, punch your brah on the shoulder; green, go get another drink from the bar. The music was larded with cues to provoke these reactions: Sad, countryish melodies driven (hard) by acoustic guitar and the electric fiddle of King's wife, Bridget Regan; electrified punk throwdowns that one-upped the Pogues, or at least threatened to; genuinely moving passages that conjured thoughts of quitting your job, leaving your girl, hitting the road and following the gypsy accordion and fiddle until they either led you down the road to paradise or stole all your money and abandoned you on the side of the highway.
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Aftermath is not immune to these charms. Our beard is red for a reason, and our heart is as green as any Notre Dame supporter. But the magic of previous Molly shows we've seen wasn't quite there, and as much as we wanted to, we couldn't get swept along in the swagger of "Drunken Lullabies," "The Worst Day Since Yesterday," "Rebels of the Sacred Heart" and "The Likes of You Again" like we have in the past. But motivations can be hard to grasp, concrete conclusions hard to come by, and authenticity a fuzzy concept in the foggy, foggy dew. And it was a spirited show by a band that knows its domain inside and out, for an audience more than willing to meet them halfway. (There goes another plastic cup.) But our thoughts kept circling back to the words of another Irish punk, John Lydon: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" A little. The song Aftermath couldn't get out of our heads on the way to work this morning was still "Galway Girl," not anything we heard at the show. But we'll be a gracious host and give Dave King the last word.
"It could be worse," he said as Molly's set rounded into the home stretch. "We could be playing bingo."
For additional photos from the concert, check out our slideshow.