There’s no one way to be punk. It’s a state of mind—that’s how you end up with three different genres tearing up the Vogue Theatre stage and inciting riotous moshing, as the violins and kickbeats and accordion all come together to say: fuck the man, man.
First up are alt-country band The Vandoliers, lead by the impossibly charming Joshua Fleming (they’re Willie Nelson country, not “Try That In A Small Town” country). Their cow-punk gets the crowd loosened up and belting along. Between joking about DUIs getting people banned from the country and self-depreciation about the band’s semi-inscrutable genre, Fleming wins the assembled not-yet-sweaty masses over. The gang finishes with a cover of the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles”, becoming maybe the first band ever not to sing it with a Scottish accent.
Next up is The Bronx, whose sole intention seems to be making sure the venue has passed its structural integrity checks. Entering to the meme-worthy electric hype of Darude’s “Sandstorm”, the set only gets more unhinged from there. With a beaming bulldog of a human being leading the fray, the Los Angeles hardcore rockers pummel out an electrifying set that refuses to let up—punctuated by ebullient frontman Matt Caughthran delivering relentless positivity that contrasts wildly with the band’s in-your-face hardcore. Vape clouds billow from the audience. Security holds up bottles of water like worried parents. A shirtless dude, nakedness accentuated by his firmly placed baseball cap, repeatedly crowd-surfs several feet in each cardinal direction.
All hell really breaks loose when Caughthran himself jumps into the pit. He performs one song from the moshing madness of the circle, mic wire tripping up hapless crowd members—before some smart cookies think to hold it aloft for the second track, like a tether between an astronaut and the space station. Slam dance central. The decision to wear Blundstones in August is vindicated.
After that lesson in rawness, Flogging Molly takes to the stage conducting the audience in a cover of Sinaed O’Connor’s “Molly Malone”. They launch straight into “Drunken Lullabies”, inciting the wildest chaos of the night so far as half the beer-sticky crowd opens up a raucous pit in glee. With nearly 30 years of songs under their belts, the seven-piece Celtic punk band plows through a tour-de-force set of greatest hits and new music. The band’s back catalogue has a mix of different tones and focuses—diaspora longing, getting drunk, punk anger—which makes the historic folk stories of the new songs more intriguing. Songs of liberty, dedicated to Irish revolutionaries and women of the revolution, make for a lyrical counterpoint to the rowdier stuff.
Lead singer Dave King, who looks more like a nice TV presenter or a fun maths teacher than a rock and roll frontman, ribbs the crowd with aplomb—complimenting a redhead’s Clutch shirt, chastising someone else for yawning. “The Hand of John A. Sullivan” sets off a boisterous singalong, and he revels in the jumping, stamping, clapping, and hollering masses before him.
Despite being musically far less heavy than The Bronx, Flogging Molly’s unbridled enthusiasm encourages just as much good-natured aggression. With a mix of accordion, mandolin, fiddle, and bodhrán alongside more modern instruments, tradition and rock meld into something earnest and glorious.
Sometimes punk is losing your shit to a tin whistle solo. And that’s pretty rad.