The High Kings famously sang, “Wherever you go around the world, you’ll find an Irish pub.”
I think it’s fair to say that somewhere near that pub is probably a group trying to emulate the Celtic punk sound. In blending punk rock with traditional Irish themes and mixing in pirate swagger, Newark’s Brave The Sea have carved their own niche among the musical community. I’m sure it wasn’t by accident that they chose the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day for the release of their new record, “The Kraken”…
The band took it upon themselves to book shows back-to-back in Columbus and Pittsburgh, and we caught up with them at Ace of Cups on Friday (March 15) for part one of their musical extravaganza. The parking lot adjacent to the venue was already full when doors opened at 7 p.m., and there was plenty of green to go around. To borrow the phrase, we were ready to be shamrock’d.
Up and comers The Phantom Grins opened things up with a tight, pounding set, while The Scratches followed with their first show as a four-piece band in several years. The veteran rockers slayed the crowd and set the stage for the throwback sound of Black Coffee, who kept things moving and shaking. The pit was full, as the six pirates rowed their way on stage and set us up for the evening.
They were a curious sextet ensemble, with kilt-wearing bassist Ryan Boggs and scraggly Matt Toskin holding his mandolin to the left, guitarist Matt Bibler and Will John playing a keytar accordion to the right, while Dennis Berendts held down the drums and singer Vito Gambill stood front and center. Gambill had brought his trademark drinking horn in hilt, as well as a treasure piñata for the night’s entertainment.
As the band finished their setup, the traditional Irish rebellion song Come Out Ye Black and Tans played over the PA system. Toskin and John came forward to sing with the crowd, and as the song finished the band immediately launched into the opening track of “The Kraken”, Jig of Death. Boggs and Toskin danced around, as the latter sang the second verse about the rude lad named Donny. It was the perfect upbeat song to kick off a set, laying the foundation for the night.
Gambill announced that the band was going to play the entire new release from front to back, and pointed out a group of beautiful women standing up by the merch booth. He said they were the band’s personal Sirens, and to not get too close. The gals tossed a load of glowing beach balls into the crowd as the band went into Siren’s Song, a slower tale of seduction. You could certainly feel John’s accordion on this track, and Gambill himself played along on his drinking horn.
Six became seven as a trombonist joined the crew of scalawags on stage, and Gambill announced that this was Joe, “…because we’re 311 now” to a round of laughs from the crowd. The song had a fantastic horn solo and a chorus that anyone could relate to… “It’s you, me, and the devil brought tequila!”
Gambill poured his beer into his drinking horn for Sláinte, an interlude speaking to the various liquors around the world. Toskin switched from mandolin to guitar, as the set then took a somber turn in No Whiskey, No Rum, a song about running out of booze while at sea and being unable to impress the ladies they met. Surely no pirate should ever have to suffer such a horrible fate.
“I love St Patrick’s Day,” announced Gambill. “It’s the only time of year I can insult all of you at once, you bunch of bastards!”
Boggs and John took the lead on what Gambill called their “disco” song, Bottom Of The Sea. The track started out a little silly, but quickly went from bouncy to brutal as Toskin and Bibler threw down some vicious heaviness on the chorus, kicking into a duel-wielding solo of their own.
Up next was a tale about “…that Spanish bitch”, Bella Donna, in which all five of the standing members sang along during the chorus, singing part of the song in Spanish and the remainder of it in English. It was another fun tale of toil and trouble; two themes that seem to follow Brave The Sea wherever they go. If I had to pick a band who would be perfect tour mates for the group, it would be fellow pirate rockers Alestorm.
Toskin picked his mandolin back up, telling us all that they had written the next song hastily to try and win a spot on a cruise with Flogging Molly. They didn’t win, but they liked the song enough to include in on the new record.
It was over almost as quickly as it began, and the band jumped right into Long Road, an accordion-heavy tale that featured Toskin and Gambill sharing the vocal duties again. Gambill seemed particularly excited by this number, as he started laughing mid-way through singing the second verse.
For Down With Davey Jones, the group called upon the crowd to partake in chanting “Heave, Ho!” It was an a cappella number, with Gambill singing and the rest of the group chanting along with the crowd.
It just wouldn’t be a true pirate show without hoisting the main sail and setting out upon the sea. Toskin was back on guitar for The Kraken, a heavier track where Berendts blasted away at his kit, almost knocking his cymbals loose. Bibler again got to show his licks with a crunching solo that had fans near the stage raising their fists in glee.
“It wouldn’t be a proper Celtic rock show without a story about Ireland, right?” asked Toskin, as he took center stage.
He told us that he had written the final song from the new record, Don’t Take Me Back (In Your Arms) while on vacation on the Emerald Isle of Ireland. He said it essentially was a song about not wanting to come home. It was a soft and sweet ballad that brought the rest of the members together for a tearful hug.
Gambill announced that that was the end of the record, and asked if we wanted more. There was an uproar from the crowd, so he said “Let’s play DuckTales!”
It was definitely a humorous scene as Boggs immediately started playing the bass line from the popular Disney show, while Gambill stumbled through the words. He stopped the rest of the group, admitting he had no idea what the rest of the words were, but we all cheered nonetheless.
Up next they played I Hate My Job, which has a fairly simple chorus that we all know the words to… well, it’s just the title of the song over and over again.
“Guys, it’s way past our bedtimes,” admitted Gambill. “I just wanna go home, get in my pajamas and eat dinosaur chicken nuggets. But we’ll play you one more since you’ve been so great!”
Naturally, the band saves their best for last with Drinking Problems, the perfect St. Patrick’s Day song for the USA. Everyone on stage took a drink, and both Toskin and Gambill took turns humping Boggs (to his horror, or was it enjoyment?). We all danced and punched the beach balls around one last time, and the group waved before exiting the stage.
All around me, people were chanting for an encore. “One more song” we cried, but Gambill came back out and yelled, “We don’t know any more! Leave us alone!” The lights came up, the PA came back on and half the crowd filed out, while most of the rest started to head back to the bar for more libations. A few of us stayed around the stage to try and chat with the band, when suddenly Toskin and Gambill ran back up and announced that they’d play a few more.
“We didn’t write these ones, but we hope you know them just the same.”
First it was the classic Drunken Sailor, which I’m sure most of us had already heard a dozen times over the weekend. Lastly, it was Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya¸ another traditional number made popular by Dropkick Murphys.
The remaining crowd cheered heartily as the boys finally started tearing down the stage, while Gambill invited anyone who wanted to finish their drinks to come out to the patio for a few rounds of The Barley Mow. Many of us grabbed new drinks and chanted “Good Luck” as we finished them off with each round. It may have been a bit chilly outside, but it was certainly the perfect way to finish a great show.
All in all, it was exactly what you want from a show centered on the green holiday. Drinks, dancing, laughter and great music. What more could you ask for, Columbus?
- Jig Of Death
- Siren’s Song
- The Devil Brought Tequila
- No Whiskey, No Rum
- Bottom Of The Sea
- Bella Donna
- Put Me On A Boat
- Long Road
- Down With Davey Jones
- The Kraken
- Don’t Take Me Back (In Your Arms)
- DuckTales Theme
- I Hate My Job
- Drinking Problems
- Drunken Sailor (traditional)
- Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya (traditional)
(outside with Vito)
- The Barley Mow
Credit all images: J Courtney / MIMC