Billing themselves as "the hardest-rocking Irish band in Madison, Wisconsin," the Kissers made a terrific argument for the title of "hardest-rocking Irish band from anywhere" in their Washington area debut at Iota on Tuesday night. The seven-piece outfit skillfully, recklessly combines elements of traditional Celtic music -- represented by Kari Bethke's soaring fiddle, Kevin Youngs's mandolin and Pete Colclasure's accordion -- with hard-edged rock-and-roll, propelled to the rafters by Joe Bernstein's drumming and Caitlin Oliver-Gans's lock-synch bass. It's Green Day meets the Pogues.
The bulk of the set was made up of originals, and while those were clever and furiously played, it was the choice of cover material that was most telling. Vocalist Ken Fitzsimmons, after paying tribute to the influence of Johnny Cash on his music, ripped through a double-time version of Hank Snow's already fast country hit "I've Been Everywhere," a song played on occasion by Cash himself. On the band's revved-up performance of the traditional Irish ballad "Wild Rover," Fitzsimmons put forth such passion that Bethke was inspired to play fiddle while pogo-dancing on stage.
Guitarist Nate Palan, who also played four-string banjo for one number, took the vocal mike to sing a surprisingly faithful take on the Rolling Stones' flower-power anthem "She's a Rainbow." That the song succeeded as well as it did says a lot for the ability of the band.
Now that they've made a name for themselves in the Midwest, the Kissers are kissing Madison goodbye and moving en masse to Boston. The move to the bigger, Irish-friendly market bodes well for them as they would appear to have what it takes to advance their career: a distinctive sound, a cohesive chemistry and an obvious love of performing the music.
-- Buzz McClain