Irish rebel songs were born from the crush of oppression and political strife, delivered by crooners and collectives intent on percussive protest. And whether delivered emotionally or with blunt ferocity, their vocals didn’t need the accompanying amplification of Fenders or fiddles to get the point across.
Neither do Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. But in these partisan times full of daily controversies and calculated deception, teaming historically tested lyrical angst with the chaos of power chords certainly helps to get a point across—all while delivering a potent brand of danceable poetry.
“I think [the styles of music] go together like peanut butter and jelly,” said Molly guitarist and Rochester native Dennis Casey, reached before the band’s Oct. 31 concert at Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls. “They are two very different things, but together, they can make an incredible impact. Traditional Irish music is about bringing people together to celebrate life. If you take that music, plug it through a guitar amp and add some great lyrics, it can be teamed perfectly.”
And since its debut release “Alive Behind the Green Door” 20 years ago, that’s exactly what Casey and his bandmates have done. Traversing a path carved by The Pogues and ventured by Irish-accented punk contemporaries Dropkick Murphys and Street Dogs, the Los Angeles-based act has mastered this merger with favorites like 2002’s “Drunken Lullabies” and its wild double album, “Live at the Greek Theatre.”
Steered by the stewardship of Dublin-born frontman Dave King, the seven-piece has always spoken from a place of genuine Irish experience, one imbued with heartache, hardships and the puncher’s spirit required to overcome both. This perspective comes in handy on the sarcastically titled “Life is Good." Released last June, the album handles a heavy dose of the vexing duality between joy and pain—all against the backdrop of an American political construct coming apart at the seams.
“The political climate has always affected us,” Casey said. “If you listen to all our records, there’s always some sort of political angst, strife or message that we’ve had to deliver.”
Recorded in Ireland’s County Westmeath at the secluded Grouse Lodge—which has facilitated past recordings by the likes of R.E.M. and Glen Hansard’s Frames—the album was conceived amid the death of King’s mother and Casey’s father, Jim, who raised the guitarist and his family on Rochester’s Norton Street.
But weaved throughout work that explores the emotional weight of personal loss are pointed pleas for those shaken by the daily deluge of governmental dysfunction, with tracks like “Reptiles (We Woke Up)” and “Crushed (Hostile Nations)” taking different compositional paths to sound an imperative alarm for justice and sanity. Such is the multifaceted responsibility of musicians of their ilk, Casey said, just as it has been for decades.
“The role hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed one bit, since Woody Guthrie was singing about similar things, and even before him,” Casey said. “The role of the music is to speak to people, inspire them, touch them, educate them, and maybe help them think about something different. It’s the same as it’s ever been.”
Flogging Molly knows its role. And with thoughtful introspection, thrusting instrumentation and a hooley enthusiasm that’s carried the band’s operation for more than two decades, they’ll keep playing that role—as only an act informed by the spirit of Irish rebellion can be trusted to do.
With Anti-Flag and Jon Snodgrass. 8 p.m. Oct. 31 at Rapids Theatre (1711 Main St., Niagara Falls). Tickets are $37-$43. Visit rapidstheatre.com.