Flogging Molly with Anti-Flag & Skinny Lister
Wind Creek Event Center – Bethlehem, PA – 2/25/23
Review & Photo – Rebecca Wolf
The expansive general admission floor space at Wind Creek Event Center was packed with an eclectic mix of fans on February 25th for the evening’s triple bill, including Skinny Lister, Anti-Flag and the night’s headliner Flogging Molly. While each band has a punk music connection, every one had its own artistic feel, creative vibe and unique sound. What they also had in common was their high-octane energy, positive spirit and intense passion, all of which were on display for the boisterous, enthusiastic crowd, a crowd set for an impassioned musical performance. The mood was equally electric from the stage all the way to the back of the house. This was not a show where concert-goers idly sat back and watched. These fans were there to actively enjoy the fun. The exhilaration was clearly apparent by the raised, waving arms, the jumping, singing, shouting, and no doubt by the crowd surfing. Everyone was having a blast.
This being my first punk performance, I was enthralled by the crowd surfers who rode the waves of outstretched arms, made their way to the front of the audience, and were deposited into the pit with the help of the security crew. My inexperience had me momentarily believing this was “against the rules” and these fans would be admonished for their actions. However, the surfers, with big smiles on their faces, were merely directed to exit the area and return to the crowd. It seemed to be a badge of honor to successfully catch the wave and safely arrive in the pit. This was when I discovered it was apparently all part of the punk concert experience.
Not only were the fans actively engaged but the band members were as well.
During all three performances there was a high level of motion and activity on stage. This liveliness was on display from the moment the evening’s opening act, Skinny Lister, arrived. Skinny Lister, formed in 2009 in the UK, has released five studio albums, toured across Europe and the US, and has garnered considerable attention for music that’s been described as a mixture of genres, including folk, punk rock and a touch of pop. While I’m not one to put much stock in categorizing music, I can say I was immediately drawn in by the band’s joyful, engaging energy and upbeat, melodic, punchy sound. Singer and front-woman Lorna Thomas quickly captivated attention with her flirty facial expressions, hair tosses, and theatrical dancing about the stage, while brother Maxwell Thomas jumped, danced, sang and exuberantly played the melodeon. Co-vocalist and guitarist Dan Heptinstall (founding band member with the Thomases) fiercely played guitar and sang, whether standing or on his knees, as double bass player, Scott Milson, danced with his grand string instrument and effortlessly hoisted it in the air, and drummer Juan Carlos (a fill in for Tom Hillsdon) kept drumsticks flying with incredible speed and dexterity. Songs in the 30 minute set included “Wanted” and “Tragedy in a Minor” from 2017’s The Devil, The Heart & The Fight, “Trouble on Oxford Street” from 2015’s Down on Deptford Broadway and “Rollin’ Over” and “John Kanaka” from the band’s debut album Forge & Flagon. The band completed their set leaving the crowd with a solid foundation of excitement and enthusiasm for the music still yet to come.
Anti-Flag burst onto the stage bringing the intensity of a hard-edged, punk rock band. Originally formed in 1988 in Pittsburgh, PA, the band reformed in 1992 and released their debut album Die For the Government in 1996. In the years since, they’ve released an additional 12 albums, the newest, Lies They Tell Our Children was released in January 2023. Current band members include Justin Sane, lead vocals and lead guitar, Chris Head, bass, rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Chris No. 2 (Chris Barker), bass guitar, backing and lead vocals, and Pat Thetic, drums and percussion. (Currently, touring drummer Erik Pitluga is performing on drums and Marc Code has joined on background vocals.) Throughout their musical career, Anti-Flag has been known for their progressive political advocacy, including animal rights and anti-war movements. As times have become more challenging for many Americans in the past decade, Anti-Flag’s themes have focused on modern day struggles including health care access, climate change, economic inequality and personal autonomy. With his guitar held high in the air, in a powerful stance, Sane shouted to the cheers of the crowd, “I’m in defiance of any politician or person who believes they have the right to use their power, their position, or their privilege to take a person’s bodily autonomy away!” These band members have their strong convictions but they are truly on a quest for unity. Again speaking to the crowd, Sane’s requested, “Look to your right and to your left. If you didn’t know the person next to you, introduce yourself!” The enthusiastic spirit reverberating throughout the packed event center provided the perfect environment for greeting and befriending one’s concert neighbor.
Anti-Flag’s punk rock music was gritty, raw and powerful, with fierce guitar chords and drums beats. However, nothing was as fierce as the incredible leaps and speaker jumps made by Chris No.2, all while playing bass guitar. While it was virtually impossible to not be completely fixated on Chris No. 2’s airborne flights, all members of the band exhibited passionate stage presence. When not furiously playing the guitar with his fiery facial expressions, Sane paraded around the stage with his guitar perched above his head, singing anthems that were powerful and hard-edged but could also feel melodic. The set included numbers from the group’s 13 albums ranging from the title song from their 1996 debut album “Die For Your Government,” to “LAUGH. CRY. SMILE. DIE.” from 2023’s Lies They Tell Our Children. Additional songs from the band’s expansive catalog included, “Turncoat” from 2003’s The Terror State, “This Is the End (For You My Friend)” and “The Press Corpse” from 2006’s For Blood and Empire, and “American Attraction” from 2017’s American Fall. Added into the mix was a medley of iconic punk numbers “Should I Stay or Should I Go/ God Save the Queen/ Rise Above/ Fall Back Down/ If the Kids Are United/ Blitzkrieg Bop/ Should I Stay or Should I Go”. Regardless of the specific songs, it was the energy and mood, the overall message of the punk music that had the audience completely hyped and in full party mode throughout the band’s stint on stage.
With Anti-Flag’s departure there was a momentary lull in the crowd. It was hard to believe after two such energetic sets that the main act was yet to arrive. But, arrive it did with Flogging Molly’s explosion of Celtic punk, as lead singer, guitar player and frontman Dave King euphorically burst onstage with his guitar, followed by band members, Dennis Casey, guitar and vocals, Matt Hensley, accordion and concertina, Nathen Maxwell, bass guitar and vocals, Spencer Swain, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and vocals, and Mike Alonso, drums and percussion. Absent from the band was violinist Bridget Regan (King’s wife) who he explained, “fell right at the beginning of the tour and broke her shoulder but she’s doing well and will be back in a few shows!” Flogging Molly, a Los Angeles born band, was formed in 1995 by Irish vocalist King, and has released 7 studio albums, the most recent 2022’s Anthem. The band’s music is a mixture of traditional Celtic songwriting and instrumentation mixed with the raw energy and powerful flavor of punk music.
Watching King in action it’s as if he performs not merely with enthusiasm but with an urgency to share this music with the adoring crowd. As King scampered about the stage, often hunched over his guitar, his fingers raced along the strings at breakneck speed, as words swiftly flew from his lips. King’s vocals were that of a true Irishman. So often, when you hear vocalists performing in English their accent appears “lost” in the music. However, that was not the case with King who sings with a thick Irish brogue. The hour and a half set was filled with blisteringly fast-paced, nonstop musical action. King was not the only musician who played at breathtaking speed, as all band members’ engines appeared set on rapid fire. The crowd demonstrated their devotion by matching the onstage energy with louder cheering and singing, wilder jumping and dancing and of course more crowd surfing. It was a veritable party both on the stage and in the crowd. The set included a range of songs from the band’s catalog, including “Drunken Lullabies”, “Swagger” and “The Killburn High Road”, from 2002’s Drunken Lullabies, “Tobacco Island” and “Seven Deadly Sins” from 2004’s Within a Mile of Home, “Float”, title song from the 2008 album, “The Hand of John L. Sullivan” from 2017’s Life is Good, and from 2022’s Anthem, “These Times Have Got Me Drinking/Tripping Up the Stairs”, “Life Begins and Ends (But Never Fails)” and “No Last Days”. The show ended with an all out raucous encore with “Black Friday Rule” and “Salty Dog” from 2000’s Swagger.
What an incredibly diverse evening of punk music, folk punk, punk rock, Celtic punk. Each band had a completely different sound and feel. What they truly all shared was their powerful energy, intense passion and punk spirit, which kept the crowd actively engaged and enthralled throughout the performance. I admittedly don’t know too much about punk, but this seemed to me to fit the bill as a great punk show!