I realize that’s Scotch in the photo, not Irish Whiskey. And yeah, I know today is Saturday, but I mixed a nip into my mug of coffee – that makes it Irish, doesn’t it?
Lead by Irish-born front man Dave King, this beer-powered, whiskey-soaked seven-piece band rollicks through a classically Irish story. King’s alcoholic father beat him senseless and his demented mother fed him lumps of coal for breakfast. He turned to rock and roll for redemption, journeying cross the sea to the land of opportunity where he started a band in Los Angeles called Flogging Molly.
For years he lived without a valid U.S. visa, evading deportation while assembling his dream rock and roll outfit. Flogging Molly gained a grassroots following through their weekly gigs at Molly Malone’s, the L.A. pub venue that inspired the band’s name.
Okay, so this plot line has elements of the hackneyed “poor Irish immigrant makes good” story. But this band documentary is anything but trite. The story reveals the lives of each band member without succumbing to what must have been a strong temptation to portray Flogging Molly as an Irish party band. Don’t get me wrong, these guys (and one gal) do have a penchant for drinking beer and thrashing out amped-up Irish folk-influenced, manic punk-styled, high energy rock and roll.
But they are also just a bunch of dudes with regular lives, families, problems, and all the normal crap. What sets them apart is their dedication and integrity, which is borne out by their music and band identity. They avoid the rough-guy, hard-drinking, working-class pretensions that another similar band plays up. Mandolin, banjo, fiddle, accordion, and tin whistle, plus the occasional acoustic song, make them impossible to pigeonhole as punk. But their raucous, fast-tempo, electric guitar-driven anthems keep them equally off limits at the folk festivals.
The story of Flogging Molly, especially King’s lyrics, capture quintessential Irish traits: they seem as forlorn and pissed off as a wet cat, crazy as a banshee, livid with angst and desire, and yet as jovial as a gaggle of mates drinking beers down the pub. King’s song about growing up in an Irish ghetto (a place that is actually called Beggars Bush, no joke) is earnest and emotional but never maudlin. His story and song about watching his father literally turn yellow and die is filled with anguish but somehow manages to be comical at the same time.
The band’s beer of choice seems clearly to be Guinness. I guess you can’t really argue with that, but I wish someone would turn them on to craft beer so they could discover that there is more out there than this one over-hyped brand of stout made by the world’s largest drinks company (Diageo). It’s seems like an independent band like this (all their records are on the independent label SideOneDummy) would naturally gravitate toward independent beers. And who knows, maybe they do, but judging by the pictures on their records they seem to have an allegiance to the obvious. There are other tributes to the obvious, like the giant four-leafed clover on the inside of the DVD’s gatefold packaging.
But besides these minor complaints, I applaud the band’s seriousness and authenticity – it makes all the difference for a group that could easily have relied on clichés to sell a barrel of Irish exploitation gimmicks. Instead you get Irish malt mashed with Los Angeles water distilled into an Irish-American blend that has the heat of LA and a hint of the old sod.