Photos by Whitney Lerch
Text by Melanie Stangl
If you know one thing about local Celtic punks Bastard Bearded Irishmen, you know they like to drink. If you know two things, you know they like to drink, and throw unforgettable parties onstage. They consistently bring raucous antics, raunchy banter, staggering musical skill, and unparalleled energy to their performances. And their release show for their new album, Drinkin’ to the Dead, on May 4th was no exception.
But there was a twist: this time, the Bastards were on a boat. (Specifically, a Gateway Clipper cruiser.) A risky venture to be sure, especially with the ominous clouds that had gathered in the hours leading up to departure time. But the risk absolutely paid off. The sky cleared, opening up into a gorgeous sunset and idyllic night. It was a promising sign of the killer celebration to come. Bastard Bearded Irishmen played so enthusiastically, so loudly, and so damn well, that you’d almost find it hard to believe that the ‘dead’ they were drinkin’ to didn’t hear them.
Never having been on a Gateway Clipper before, I was relieved to find the concert was taking place inside the boat, in a ballroom of sorts, and not out on the deck. There were two interior levels, with an upper balcony surrounding the main floor where the stage, a dance floor, a bar, and several long tables were set up. Attendees could (and did) move freely throughout the boat, occasionally stepping outside to either the sprawling deck at the very top, or one of the two standing-room-only wraparound ledges further down. The atmosphere was happy and animated as people chatted, explored their surroundings, and anticipated the night ahead.
Folk-country outfit Molly Alphabet started the show as the boat set off down the Monongahela. They played a mix of original material and their takes on songs by the likes of George Thorogood (“The Race Is On”), Merle Haggard (“Mama Tried”), and Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues.”) Despite the different genres, both bands offered fun, warm, down-to-earth energy that worked quite well together.
After the first few numbers, Alphabet quipped, “We have the easy job of warming up the stage for the Bastard Bearded Irishmen, who need no warming up.” Her stage presence throughout the set was spirited and feisty, with her trademark Lawrenceville-drawl vocals shining over the skilled, lively sound of her band. Standout tracks included “Marriage of Convenience,” described by Alphabet as a “fake Loretta Lynn song,” and their rockabilly tune, “Daddy Took Too Much Medicine.”
For the Haggard cover, they were joined by BBI members Danny Rectenwald on mandolin and Paul Dvorchak on fiddle, which was a cool surprise. The stage was a bit crowded, but the sound was well-balanced. A few brave souls even took to the dance floor for the jauntier numbers—BBI fans aren’t exactly known for their reserve or shyness. After Alphabet remarked that we were “a ton of fun to play for,” they wrapped things up with the cheeky tune, “Let’s Make Love with the Lights On.”
This all would have been fun enough on its own. But to step out the door and see a stunning, vibrant sunset as we rolled over the water, under bridges, and past the picturesque Pittsburgh skyline, made it all the more special. It was the best backdrop for an album release show that I’ve ever seen.
Most of the crowd gathered outside to take in the scenery or have a smoke (after hitting the bar for refills) while the Bastard Bearded Irishmen got set up. The positive, excited energy was palpable as people chatted and waitresses circulated with trays of green and orange Jell-O shots. Whitney and I hung out on the top deck, and I took every opportunity to sing a line from the song “Under the Bridge” whenever the boat passed beneath a bridge. (It was a good time, is what I’m saying.)
Soon enough, an announcement that BBI would take the stage in one minute rang out through the whole ship. The crowd headed back downstairs, filling the dance floor space and packing around the balcony railing. We all knew the band had something exciting up their sleeves. But I doubt many were expecting the introduction that actually happened.
If you’ve ever looked at BBI and wondered, “Sure, they’re great, but what would they sound like singing one of Celine Dion’s greatest hits?” then a) you’re weirdly prescient, and b) the beginning of their set answered your question. To pay proper tribute to the boat that served as their venue, the Bastards delivered a dramatic rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.” And it was amazing.
“Rose” Rectenwald appeared onstage in a robe, which he quickly shed after asking rhythm guitarist “Jack” Warmbrodt to “draw [him] like one of [his] French girls.” “Jack” obliged, studiously sketching away on a pad, as “Rose,” donning only red boxer briefs, reclined in Winslet’s iconic pose. Jess Hohman played the trademark melody on flute, with Dvorchak accompanying on fiddle and frontman Jimmy Bastard gently strumming his guitar and singing.
It was a big hit. The crowd cheered and laughed, and many (self included) captured the event on their phones. Upon finishing the sketch, “Jack” offered the drawing to the crowd, where it was eagerly snatched up. The transition from this softer homage to an uptempo, full-band cover was yet another killer surprise. They then moved right into the sizzling, super-fast new album starter, “Salutations, Memoirs, Denouements.”
As someone who’s only seen a short snippet of a Bastards set before, I was staggered by their incredible energy, range, instrumental prowess, and stage presence. They truly know how to throw a party and engage with the crowd, how to make sure everyone in the room is having as much fun as they’re having. What was even more impressive is that they kept this energy up for the entirety of their two-hour set. Jimmy especially seemed to have a bottomless reserve of it—headbanging (made extra dramatic by his long hair), popping crazy faces, jumping and kicking in time with Rectenwald, and delivering powerhouse vocals and shredding guitar solos like it was easy. He was all-in, all the time, and that’s something damn special. I was only watching and taking notes, and I still needed to dash up to the top deck for a break in the middle. Even up there, I could feel the bass and drums reverberating beneath my feet.
After the opening tracks, Jimmy addressed us directly: “We’re on a boat, motherf***ers!” “Wooooo!” “We played the Titanic song!” More woo-ing. “And Danny took his clothes off!” Rectenwald then chimed in, “It might happen again…I dunno.”
The next six songs in a row came in order from the new album, plus their 2014 hit “Whiskey, Rum, Bourbon, Beer” thrown in for good measure. They didn’t shy away from collaboration, either. Chet Vincent and Molly Alphabet jumped back onstage for the band’s rendition of “Dirty Old Town” by Ewan MacColl. Hohman, a frequent collaborator, reappeared as well, with a lovely flute solo. The song started as a welcome, leisurely breather, but eventually picked up to an impressive, frenzied pace. Hohman kept up on flute while Vincent played the melodica. Rectenwald and Dvorchak delivered sizzling solos on their instruments too. It was a standout, which they followed up with the sultry duet “Ya Ya Ya.” Their merch girl (whose name unfortunately escapes me) jumped up to sing along this time.
Their frequent quips added to the fun as well. At one point, Jimmy asked us, “You know what’s funny about this show…? You can’t leave!! Even if we’re sucking up here!” They also acknowledged Hohman’s contributions to their concerts and to their new album. Rectenwald commented, “Our pay is based on instrument size, and she gets paid the least. It used to be me…but not anymore.”
The set, and the party, continued, with a mixture of new tracks and old favorites. The warm, silly new song “Moscato” was played for the “[first] and only” time. (I hope they revise their opinion on that one.) And then there was the beer-chugging contest.
The band invited a few volunteers from the crowd up onstage, where Jimmy presented a huge boot-shaped glass, filled to the brim with beer. He gave them a time limit of one minute to finish it between them, while the band played a tune whose recurring refrain was, “Drink, drink, drink the beer, drink, drink the beer.” A timer was started, with loud cheers and the audience singing along.
At this point, I have to give serious props to the guy who rocked a suit jacket, bright yellow shades, a flamingo tube, a beach ball, and arm floaties to the show. He embraced the spirit of the night wholeheartedly, and he was the one who polished off the giant boot-shaped glass (after a respectable three minutes of passing it around.) He is my hero.
The boat kept rolling, the Bastards kept playing, the alcohol kept flowing, and both band and audience grew ever more raucous. I spotted very handsy couples, drunken stumbling, and got my foot stomped on by a fellow who was aggressively jigging to the song “Pirates of Three Rivers.” But that’s the risk you take going to a Bastards show. And I’d say it was worth it.
They concluded with the extended, emotional-powerhouse title tracks from the new record: parts 1 and 2 of “Drinkin’ to the Dead.” Rectenwald got a chance to shine on lead vocals for a while, as the song grew from a solemn start to a high-octane ending. It was both a fitting conclusion to the night and a fitting tribute to the band’s past, present, and future. The Gateway Clipper pulled into dock at 11 PM but, acquiescing to cries of “One more song!,” the Bastards played “Bartender’s Friend” as an encore.
When they broke out confetti wands during one of my favorite new tracks, the killer “No Problems, No Drama,” I made the following note in my notebook: “This is why I do this.” And at their release show, packed with collaborators, fans, family, and friends, there was no denying why the Bastard Bearded Irishmen do what they do. With all its rough edges and ferocious intensity—because of them—it was beautiful.
Drinkin’ to the Dead is available now on all major download and streaming services. You can also buy it (and other merch) at their website here. Their next Pittsburgh show is Saturday, June 9th, at South Side Works, and it’s free. They take the stage at 8:30 PM. Don’t miss out.
Bastard Bearded Irishmen