In the print version of Verbicide, I once declared that Flogging Molly were the best active punk band in the world. I stand by that, although I probably don’t listen to quite enough punk anymore to judge. However, Flogging Molly are now in the most treacherous phase of a punk band’s career: maturing. Somehow already 13 years old, evolution has come.
As early as their third studio album, the direction that they would grow became clear. Appropriately utilizing their considerable talents as an accomplished, diverse collection of proficient musicians, the kings of Celtic punk began branching out into a more adult-alternative influenced sound; while the rowdy punk anthems never disappeared, songs like “Factory Girls” from Within a Mile of Home (featuring Lucinda Williams, fittingly) and “The Story So Far” from Float provided a mix of folk, alternative, and country — with just a hint of punk — that would fit in nicely on NPR.
I’ve always considered Flogging Molly to be a live band first and foremost, and they had no problem incorporating the more mid-tempo material into their sets; with a barrage of raucous crowd-pleasers to deploy whenever necessary (“Salty Dog,” “What’s Left of the Flag,” “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Black Friday Rule,” etc.) there was no trouble dropping a “Tomorrow Comes A Day Too Soon” or an “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” into the set. They are masterful and magnificent on stage — one friend of mine who never particularly cared about them saw a performance and was instantly converted.
Capturing an experience like that, however, is tricky. The stated aim of their new live package, Live at the Greek Theatre, is to present both a gift to loyal fans and an introduction to first-time listeners. The first goal, unmistakably, is met: the two-disc album and DVD of the same name captures a typically entertaining show, covering the whole of the band’s catalogue thoroughly and throwing in a few unexpected gems as well (“The Wrong Company,” an excellent acoustic “The Sun Never Shines (On Closed Doors”). The DVD looks good, and has fine extras, including the band’s entire music video catalog.
However, serious fans had already been given an elaborate gift in the form of 2006’s Whiskey on a Sunday, a documentary DVD accompanied by a disc of rarities and live tracks. Furthermore, Flogging Molly fans — myself included — know how great the live show is, and will be loyal whether or not we’re presented with a “thank you” compilation every few years.
As such, I can’t help but feel that the true targets of Live at the Greek Theater are the uninitiated. It seems that these discs are meant to serve not only as an illustration of the live show, but as a greatest hits compilation; I can’t think of many missing items from the 22-track set list, and with the videos on the DVD, the studio sound is represented as well. I think that what we are meant to do with this set is buy it for our unenlightened pals.
Evaluating it on those grounds is trickier. For one thing, punk never lends itself well to live recording. Punk concerts are meant to present an overwhelming wall of sound — furious music fired out of walls of speakers in an energizing wave. Compressing that to your car stereo (or worse, your laptop) robs the experience of its power, and inevitably sounds muddled and harried compared to studio recordings. This is true of almost every live punk album, even among the titans of the genre — try to honestly enjoy The Clash’s Live: From Here to Eternity if you don’t believe me.
That it’s a funny way to introduce someone to a band like Flogging Molly is my point — especially when each of their studio albums is a minor classic in its own right. Furthermore, quantity is not always the best thing on an introductory package; two discs of music, a DVD (of the same performance), and a boatload of extras are a lot for a new fan.
I could be wrong about this supposed intention. Perhaps the idea with Live at the Greek Theater was simply to release the best live set possible. And it is thoroughly enjoyable, with a number of truly remarkable moments. Fans — who continue to be treated extraordinarily well by this band — will be thrilled, and should certainly indulge in this collection. If you’re trying to get someone into Flogging Molly, don’t bother with this, though. Give them a copy of Swagger or Within a Mile of Home — or better yet, just take them to the show.
(Side One Dummy Records, 1944 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068)