Luck of the Irish: The Tossers are rocking on 20 years later
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Since 1993, local act The Tossers have rallied around a raucous brand of Celtic punk rock, with a bag full of original, pub-inspired drinking songs framed in a traditional folk style. Their allegiance to a native songbook has given them opportunities to share the bill with The Pogues, play fundraisers for former Mayor Daley, get invitations to Kennedy Center’s Ireland 100 celebration and even briefly tour the homeland over the years.
When: 8 p.m.,March 17
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $17 (in advance)
The Tossers’ annual St. Patrick’s Day show at Metro has also become a holiday in itself, drawing legions of “Chirish” wannabes to the South Siders’ musical fete, which is heavily doused in violins, accordions, mandolin and vocalist Tony Duggins’ rambling vocal cowl.
“It’ll never be out of style because it’s already out of style,” Duggins quips about the continual appeal of the music, which has found a year-round fan base thanks to colleagues like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.
“There’s a side of us that’s loud and contemporary, because we grew up listening to punk rock,” he continues, “but the other side of us, we really feel like we are celebrating our own culture and heritage and traditions. We have always consciously tried — as far as writing and producing — to keep our music completely traditional and dealing with traditional subjects as much as we can.”
Their new album, “Smash the Windows”— the first in four years — is a prime example. While there are the familiar standards like an homage to “Danny Boy” and odes to the band’s favorite pastime (“Whiskey” and “Drinkin All the Day”), there’s also bold statement pieces like “1969,” referencing the infamous civil rights rioting in Northern Ireland, as well as the first single “Erin Go Bragh,” which chastises newfound policies on American immigration.
It’s a topic that’s close to the members of the band, which also includes Duggins’ brother Aaron on whistle and button accordion, guitarist Mike Pawula, bassist Peter Muschong, drummer “Bones” and newly initiated violin player Emily Constantinou.
“For me personally and a couple of other guys in the band, we have grandparents from Ireland. We grew up on the South Side of Chicago, which has attracted a lot of workers from all over the world, not just the Irish, but Italian, Polish, Mexican immigrants. It’s always been part of our lives and the neighborhoods we grew up in,” says Duggins, who worked a production team to pull archival footage from Ellis Island to create a powerful music video. “From the beginning I had an idea to combine that footage, because it has a lot to do with the song. … It reflects what’s going on in this country.”
Beyond a national scope, The Tossers also take a local lens on “Smash the Windows” with the prideful “The Town Where I Was Born” and the unexpected “Resurrection Mary” about the legendary teenage ghost that has haunted Archer Avenue since the 1930s.
“Writing about her has been on my mind for a while,” Duggins admits. “As South Siders, we grew up with that story. On field trips, they’d drive us past [Resurrection Cemetery] and tell us to watch out.” Though no one in the band has had a run-in with the hitchhiking spirit, nor does Duggins really believe in haunts, he was more taken with how Mary’s story has become its own traditional folk tale.
“She’s a local legend and should be celebrated,” he says. “Nobody even knows really for sure who she was. She was such an average person, for lack of a better word, that her real life was insignificant but now her story has lived on forever.”
Championing the underdog has been a big part of The Tossers’ repertoire, not only growing up in a working class city but perhaps because they once bore that title themselves. The band’s roots begin in the early ‘90s with hard-wrought residences across the city at venues like Abbey Pub before finding their first big draws at Metro.
“They basically gave us our break. That’s when we started drawing audiences and putting our career together,” says Duggins, who also notes this week’s show will mark the landmark 40th time they’ve played the north side venue. “We feel very lucky to have known the staff and [owner] Joe [Shanahan] all these years. …Our St. Patrick’s Day shows there are always the best memories.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance music writer.