When you’ve earned four City Paper “Best Rock Band” wins, over 9,000 Facebook fans, spots on multiple rock cruises with nationally famous acts, and a reputation as one of the most entertaining party bands in Pittsburgh, you’re probably doing something right. Homegrown Celtic punk favorites Bastard Bearded Irishmen have been carving out their niche for ten years now, and have the lengthy resume to prove it. They bring skilled musicianship and raw, ferocious energy (often of the hard-drinking variety) to both their recordings and their live performances.
And now they’ve got a new album. The fifteen-track-long Drinkin’ to the Dead drops everywhere on Friday, May 4th, with a release show happening that night. But this won’t be your run-of-the-mill album release party. The Bastards have secured the Gateway Clipper boat for the occasion, making the title of the record’s twelfth track, “Pirates of the Three Rivers,” pretty damn literal. The cruise will set sail at 8 PM and return to the dock at Station Square by 11.
As far as concert settings in the city are concerned, it’s hard to imagine a better backdrop than the Pittsburgh skyline over the water. And this fun, unexpected twist on a release show is fitting. Drinkin’ to the Dead is BBI’s best work yet. It’s energetic and raucous, incredibly fun and full of heart. Even if (like me) high-octane Celtic punk isn’t something that gets regular rotation on your playlists, this album has an excellent chance of changing that stance. In the opening track, “Salutations, Memoirs, Denouements,” lead singer Jimmy Bastard advises, “Give it all you got ‘cause in the end/time will lay us all down.” On this record, BBI does give the listener all they got. They do so with an intensity (and sense of fun) sharpened by their awareness of how relatively little time we all have—until others will be drinking to us.
Bastard Bearded Irishmen consists of Jimmy Bastard on lead vocals and guitar; Danny Rectenwald on mandolin, guitar, and backing vocals; Paul Dvorchak on fiddle and backing vocals; Sean-Paul Williams on bass and backing vocals; Ryan Warmbrodt on rhythm guitar; and Dan Stocker on drums.
The band has drawn from both classic and modern Celtic influences, along with elements of punk, gypsy, folk, and straight-up rock n’roll. Frenetic drumbeats, sizzling guitar solos, and cathartic rallying shouts from lead singer Bastard coexist with jaunty, intricate mandolin parts, warm fiddle riffs, and stacked vocal harmonies. They’re able to express both their harder and softer sides with finesse, and they navigate the ground between them impressively well (often within a single song.)
Dvorchak’s masterful fiddle playing is essential to this range. He blew me away with quick scorching lines on tracks like “Salutations,” and charmed me with his more traditional takes on songs like “Harvest” and “Slip (the) Jig.” (He particularly shines in the band’s cover of “Dirty Old Town” by Ewan MacColl—slow and soulful at first, eventually building to breakneck speed.)
It’s clear BBI has pushed themselves to new creative heights on this record. And there are some fun surprises in store—perhaps most notably, Rectenwald stepping up to lead vocals for four songs. (I won’t spoil which ones.) A female guest vocalist also joins the band on the alluring sixth track, “Ya, Ya, Ya.” And appropriately somber, pretty key parts shine in the concluding tracks, named after the album itself.
There are several standout songs, but my personal picks include the killer “No Problems, No Drama;” the charged, plaintive “Green Side of the Hill;” the head-banging “Drunken Drinkin,’” and “Moscato (Intermission),” a warm, silly tune whose chorus of “I’m-a gonna go/get me a bottle/oooof Moscato, drink some wine,” is pretty much guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
On their website, the band describes their new album as “a tribute to fallen friends and family, one of the reasons Bastard Bearded Irishmen formed in the first place…a respectful remembrance of those who have passed, with an acceptance to go on and live your best life.” Whether you’ve been following the band for a while, or have never gotten the chance to see what their version of “living their best lives” onstage looks like, there’s no better time to refresh your memory. Drinkin’ to the Dead’s release promises to be a rocking good time.
The Gateway Clipper will open up for boarding at 7 PM on May 4th, set sail at 8 PM, and return to the dock by 11. Molly Alphabet will be opening things up before BBI takes the stage. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased here. You must be 21+ to board the boat and attend the show. Check out the event page here. And keep up with Bastard Bearded Irishmen on Facebook and their website/online store.