Five worst American bands playing Irish music
The Dropkick Murphys make us a little green around the gills.
Much has been made of the politically incorrect sin of appropriating a culture that is not your own. From the blackface minstrel shows of the 19th Century to the hippies finding sacred Native American beads and headbands to be some pretty groovy threads, Americans have been tripping over the cultural legacy for a long time. And while pretty much everyone agrees that a national embarrassment such as blackface will always be good cause for head shaking, most seem to have gotten over Elvis Presley stealing rock and roll from black culture and then being crowned king. It's a fine between theft and tribute -- with no clear definition on either side.
When the Pogues began appropriating Irish songs into their English punk band, not many cried afoul -- especially considering their singer, Shane MacGowan, was a second generation Irishman (with later members Terry Woods and Phillip Chevron being authentic Irishmen). The band's drinking eventually became the stuff of legend, and when the decaffeinated American punk rock of the 1990s followed the path of the Pogues, adopting the traditional Irish sounds (and, in many cases, fake Irish accents) into their version of suburban punk, alcohol seemed to be what excited them most about their new costumes.
In the dead-end action flick Boondock Saints, heartthrob Norman Reedus responds to threats from a trio of stereotypically threatening Russian gangsters with "its St. Paddy's Day, everyone's Irish tonight -- why don't you pull up a stool and have a drink." The gangsters refuse and the scene ends in a brawl. This line pretty much encapsulates American's attitude toward the holiday: we're all Irish, so let's act like it and embrace alcoholism and violence.
Commemorating St. Patrick -- a patron Saint of Ireland -- as well as the Christianity's arrival in Ireland, the holiday became known as "feast day" in the 17th century due to its brief lifting of Lenten restrictions on alcohol and gluttony. In the early 20th Century U.K. Parliament passed a law requiring pubs to be closed during the holidays due to excessive drinking (later repealed in 1971); and this seemingly caused the infamy of American's associating St Patrick's Day as an excuse to drink shamrock beer until your puke turns green. And in the great tradition of the U.S. turning a nation's customs into a cartoon, we give you the five worst American bands playing Irish music.
5. The Tossers If you're looking for someone to blame for '90s pop-punk's adoption of the Irish aesthetic, here you are. Coming out of Chicago (a city 3,660 miles from Dublin), this group proudly states on its website that the outfit has been "expanding the boundaries of contemporary Irish music since 1993." Complete with mandolins, fiddles and a singer with a Midwestern Irish brogue, the Tossers mark the beginning of suburban punks embracement of Guinness pints and flat caps.
4. O'Malley's March
Being called "cool" in the political world is not the same as being called "cool" in the music world. You're simply cool by comparison. When Bill Clinton donned a pair of Ray-Bans and played the sax on Arsenio Hall, he was only considered hip in comparison to old man river George H.W. Bush. It was the same when Rachael Maddow called Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley "cool" when referencing his Irish rock band, O'Malley's March. Despite being named "the best young Mayor in the country" by Esquire and being the mayor of Baltimore during the time of HBO's The Wire, any live show of O'Malley's March shows the now governor of Maryland exhibiting that family-friendly dorkiness that hasn't been considered cool since Pat Boone was rocking the charts.
3. Flatfoot 56 If there's one thing worse than a Celtic punk band, it's a Christian Celtic punk band. Often confused for touring mates, Christian hardcore band Project 86, Flatfoot 56 are, like most Christian rockers, a PG Xerox of its secular counterparts. So if you're having a difficult time wandering through this jungle of inauthentic Irish rock, you may want to skip this clip.
2. Flogging Molly One of the more "authentic" bands to make this list -- considering that FM frontman Dave King was actually born and raised in Dublin -- Flogging Molly will always be known as an American band playing Irish music. And not even from Boston! Formed and cultivated in Los Angeles -- perhaps the least Irish city next to San Antonio, Texas -- this band of Warped Tour punks sang songs about "Salty Dogs" and "Drunken Lullabies," kicking off another phenomenon of being nostalgic for a time and place you never were a part of: that whole Pirate thing.
1. Dropkick Murphys In the same way that Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and En Vogue would not still be performing were it not for Pride Fests, Dropkick Murphys -- as well as the previously mentioned Flogging Molly, who are often confused with this band -- owe a large majority of their success to St. Patrick's Day. Surviving the death of third-wave ska, the Murphys are the most successful of the Celtic-punk genre (which is sort of like being voted the best German golfer), hitting commercial success with a song in 2006's The Departed, and can also be heard during Red Sox home games and in a few editions of Guitar Hero. And every St. Paddy's Day, they hold sold out shows in their home-town -- and honorary Irish city -- of Boston, bringing drunken frat-boys from miles around to drink Jameson and participate in sing-a-longs to "Kiss Me I'm Shitfaced," all on the one day that, supposedly, "everyone is Irish."
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.