By Ben Raymond
One normally associates Gaelic music with film soundtracks alone. Irish rock bands Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys performed last Thursday before a sold-out 2,000-plus audience at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. Touted as one of the biggest acts of the city’s fall concert season, the show was a raucous, guttural musical experience that left each and every fan battered, bruised and begging for more.
After a solid opening performance from newcomers Everybody Out, the audience chanted and jostled, pushing steadily toward the stage in a stalwart mass of perspiring bodies. Some of the more brutish audience members began pits of shirtless boxing … the men too.
The lights cut. The crowd roared. And Flogging Molly took the stage. After a handful of choice four-letter words and some strumming of the guitar, the music started. A forceful push from the middle of the crowd surged forward, smashing me into the cute girl in front of me. A knock from the left separated us. I didn’t see her again. And so began what was to become a cathartic, three-hour riot of music.
Flogging Molly is adored by its fans not only for the sheer might of its music, but also for its adherence to Irish musical tradition. As manic as its sound is, it uses a great deal of violin and acoustic guitar, blending a rustic, folk-like tone to heavier tracks. The performance was absolutely incredible, and after an encore, the crowd was left wanting yet another hour.
After Flogging Molly came Boston-based Dropkick Murphys. Best known for their hit “Shipping Up to Boston,” which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” the band is an up-and-coming tour de force on the hard-rock scene. Potent, loud and powerful, Dropkick Murphys provide some of the most commanding music around today. Between the pounding bass, the chaotic percussion and the echo of bagpipes, Dropkick Murphys are as original as they are intense.
Both performances exceeded expectations, driving the crowd wilder and wilder by the minute.
I’m fairly certain I was the only guy there without a tattoo or abnormal piercing. If you weren’t being crushed under the dead weight of a half-witted, fully wasted crowd surfer, you were being smashed face first into a humid, clammy armpit. Mosh pits would emerge in an instant. Eyes were blackened, and jaws were cracked. Half-naked women were carried and tossed across the crowd, teetering on the fingernails of complete strangers, the only thing between them and a seven-foot fall to the rocky asphalt below.
We were slammed and kicked, elbowed and shoved. Our bruises formed almost instantly. We screamed at the top of our lungs, though we could not hear them over the piercing screams of the people around us. The corrupt smell of cigarettes, sweat and cheap beer hung in a moist cloud over the crowd.
Tobacco smoke rose from the spectators, carried by the noise into the summer sky as shoes and bottles were chucked onto the stage, thumping limply into a cymbal or amp. Guinness rained down, collecting in our hair, dripping down our faces. No one gave you an inch. You had to take it.
This is a true musical experience. This is true culture. To be immersed in such a powerful event, with people so different and so passionate about their lifestyle, is to feel truly and completely alive. Few things allow us to realize the feeling of vitality like music.
Strangers turn into companions; people gather in pubs and parties afterwards, sharing their stories and comparing their wounds. The guy you pounded in the mosh pit shakes your hand. The girl you caught as she crawled over your hands gives you her number. For that short time, you are friends. Tomorrow you will wake up, body broken and ears ringing and be all the better for it.
Whether you go to a rock concert or a nightclub, a coffeehouse or the opera, music is best experienced in living color. The intimacy of live performance is powerful. Music experienced only on television or through headphones is limited to two senses: sight and sound.
You miss the smell of the music. You miss the taste and the touch of the music.
But, most importantly, you miss the people.
Don’t just listen to music. Live it.