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Rousing Irish punk turns the O.C. green
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Flogging molly’s energetic Pacific Amphitheatre performance is proof that the band has arrived.



         “You know you’re getting old when you’re starting to play these fairs,” Flogging Molly’s Dave King told the fist-raising, beer-hoisting crowd on hand Thursday at Pacific Amphitheatre.

         Maybe it signifies that. If you’re Heart or Steve Miller, or even Chris Isaak. But not if you’re Flogging Molly.

         If you’re that great Irish-American punk band – the finest of its kind since the beloved Pogues, as far as we Californians know – headlining a pretty full gig at Pacific is a sign that you’ve really just begun. You’ve finally arrived.

Devoted Molly fans reading this – there are more of them in this region than any other – just went “Huh?” See, they’ve been turning out for the septet’s exuberant and accelerated celebrations of life, love and the pursuit of raucous, pub-blasting Eire punk since the decade began, or earlier.

         It’s been primarily through their support of a tiny genre- tiny only because so far it has produced few truly gifted acts- that Flogging Molly’s reputation has swelled to what it is today. What began at a small L.A. bar has grown through grass-roots means- a couple of Warped Tours didn’t hurt, either- to now mostly fill one of the largest outdoor venues in Southern California.

         Granted, it happened during the O.C. Fair, and the gig was the finale of a bill also featuring the much-loved Vandals and ‘90s holdover Goldfinger. And it was a good deal for your punk cash – just $20.

         But it is still a huge step up from selling out the House of Blues, and it’s far more prestigious than another baking-in the-afternoon turn on a dusty Warped date. It made this lot the kings (and queen, fiddler Bridget Regan) of one of only two nights of punk during Pacific’s three-week run. The other, boasting X, was nostalgic. This was about now.

         And at the moment there are four Irish rock bands not named U2 that appear locally with some regularity that every music fan should know. In no order of importance: L.A.’s Young Dubliners and Flogging Molly, Boston’s Drop Kick Murphys and the O.C.’s Fenians.

         In a battle, I’d judge Molly the best, but that’s because I have a punkish heart that fervently responds to the surging power of its blitzkrieg jig and philosophy of “that’s life, have a pint.” Of 16 cuts, 15 maintained the racing pace of Shane MacGowan pogo-dancing on Oliver Cromwell’s grave via the boisterousness of chants like “The Likes of You Again” and “Rebels of the Sacred Heart.”

         Here, that became a soundtrack to what, for King and many others proved to be a peace-promising party. Hours earlier, the Irish Republican Army announced an end to its armed campaign against Britain and Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority.

         For King, a transplant who told the audience he’ll be returning to Ireland in two months to care for his 85-year-old mother, that came as impossibly hopeful news. He dedicated “Drunken Lullabies” (its refrain: “we find ourselves in the same old mess”) to the Irish people, “who for the last 500 years have been killing each other.”

         It was a powerful moment, and its jubilation pervaded the entire rousing set. So it didn’t matter that after 75 spirited minutes of it I was ready for a slower traditional tune. The kind that made the Pogues a genuine classic. The sort Molly’s albums have plenty of.

         This wasn’t the time for teary-Maggie pieces, nor an apt moment to accuse Flogging Molly of being like Drop Kick Murphys, trapped in a punk skin. This was, above all, a tribute to Ireland, and the triumphant power of its music.

         And Orange County’s capacity to keep generating a fresh love for punk, even if it comes from a veteran act.

         Of course, if you’ve seen one Vandals show, you’ve seen just about all of them. That’s the band’s best attribute: reliability.

         Dave Quackenbush will do a solid job leading fans through staples like “My Girlfriend’s Dead” and “Anarchy Burger.” Guitarist Warren Fitzgerald will eventually play the goof, here careening into a cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” while turning cartwheels.

         And Joe Escalante, bassist bullfighter and now host of Indie 103.1’s “Barely Legal” program, will try to keep up with unerring Josh Freese, unquestionably the most versatile modern-rock drummer in action. (His other steady gigs are Devo and A Perfect Circle, and his studio résumé spans Paul Westerberg to Guns N’ Roses.)

         As for Goldfinger, well, the group has held up better than most of its peers, although it still struggles to be punk while clinging to its forte, pop hooks set to ska rhythms. The band seemed as good as it ever was, but it says something that out of a half-hour set, all I can recall now are the opening and closing covers – The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” – English, if you were wondering.



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