Music News & Reviews

Flogging Molly brings Celtic punk rock to Paso

Dave King, center, is the frontman of Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, which performs Aug. 4 at Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles.
Dave King, center, is the frontman of Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, which performs Aug. 4 at Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles.

When Flogging Molly burst onto the Los Angeles music scene in the 1990s, some listeners didn’t know what to make of the band’s boisterous blend of traditional Irish music and hardcore punk rock.

“It just didn’t make sense to people,” acknowledged band member Matt Hensley. At least one observer, he added, dismissed Flogging Molly “a two-bit (expletive) Irish bar band.”

But the band persevered, winning over fans with energy-charged live shows and songs that combine soulful, socially conscious lyrics with heartfelt vocals and fierce instrumentals. “Every person who came to our show went from going, this sounds like a (crap) show to going, ‘I’m a huge fan. Let’s do this,’” Hensley said.

Flogging Molly is sure to win over even more music lovers when it performs Aug. 4 at Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles. Two folk-flavored acts, Frank Turner and Chuck Ragan, will open the show.

Reached by phone at his Carlsbad home, Hensley shared how he first joined forces with Flogging Molly. In addition to Dublin-born frontman Dave King, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, the band’s current lineup includes drummer Mike Alonso, electric guitarist Dennis Casey, bassist Nathen Maxwell, fiddler Bridget Regan and mandolin player Bob Schmidt.

Hensley, who plays accordion and concertina in Flogging Molly, said his musical tastes were shaped by his Scottish-American mother.

“When I was a young kid, I listened to Celtic music all the time,” the Southern California native said. “And then, when I was 13, I was like, ‘This is bull (crap). I want to listen to The Clash.”

Hensley retained his interest in music even as he pursued a career as a professional skateboarder. (In addition to playing guitar in the ska band Spy Kids, he’s also enjoyed stints as a paramedic and a bar owner.) While competing around the country, he’d often stop in a pawn shop and buy a squeezebox.

“When you pick up an accordion, it can make you feel like you like you’re in Paris, France. You can feel like you’re in Germany. You can feel you’re on the Texas-and-Mexico border,” Hensley explained. “You can’t do that with a banjo.”

Given Hensley’s affection for folk music and his love of Celtic punk rockers The Pogues — “They play traditional Irish music with a ferocity that few bands have,” he said — it seems only natural that he ended up sharing the stage with King and company.

Hensley’s introduction to the band came roughly two decades ago during a trip to Los Angeles.

After attending a concert by Those Darn Accordions, he stopped for a drink at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub. That’s where he bumped into King, former lead singer of heavy metal band Fastway, who was recruiting musicians for a Celtic rock band.

“I was having a pint of Guinness,” Hensley said, when King “tapped me on the shoulder and looked at me in a weird way and kept going down the bar.”

King, it turns out, had trouble believing that the tattooed guy in front of him was an accordion player. Once King was convinced, however, “He gave me a cassette tape and said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing. If you want to be a part of it, we’re having rehearsals next weekend,’ ” Hensley recalled.

After “one nervous rehearsal,” Hensley found himself in a band “100 miles from home.”

“The attraction was Dave’s spirit. What he does, and how he does it, is infectious,” he said.

Flogging Molly started playing sold-out shows at Molly Malone’s every Monday, drawing crowds of concertgoers that dwarfed those on other nights. “You got the feeling that, ‘This is something very special. We can do this outside this particular house and succeed,’” Hensley said.

Flogging Molly released a live album, “Alive Behind the Green Door,” in 1997, and followed it up with five studio albums, including 2000’s “Swagger,” 2002’s “Drunken Lullabies,” 2004’s “Within a Mile of Home” and 2008’s “Float.” Its songs — which include “Drunken Lullabies,” “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” and “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” — frequently pop up on the soundtracks of movies (“Spotlight,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) and television shows (“Elementary,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Bones”).

Flogging Molly is now working on its as-yet-unnamed follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Speed of Darkness,” released in 2011.

In March, the band released its first new material in five years — the song “The Hand of John L. Sullivan,” which takes its inspiration from the Irish-American boxer of the same name.

“I can’t wait for this record. I believe it to be some of the best material and songs we’ve ever written,” Hensley said, explaining that he knows that for sure because of “the tingling feeling I get in my insides.” “The songs we’re playing, I can’t wait to play them again.”

He gives credit to King, who writes the majority of Flogging Molly’s music.

“Like any classic Irish writer, he has a great sense of how to make you laugh and cry at the same time. He has that classic melancholy, which is a bit of magic,” Hensley said.

Hensley said Flogging Molly continues to prove that Celtic music can be both poignant and powerful. “You can play that kind of music and do it with more balls,” he said.

Flogging Molly

7:30 p.m. Aug. 4

Vina Robles Amphitheatre, 3800 Mill Road, Paso Robles

$35 to $39.50

805-227-4812 or www.vinaroblesamphitheatre.com

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