As the Tossers prepare to play their pre-St. Patrick’s Day bash at Metro, a tradition that’s drawn enthusiastic sold-out crowds for the past four years, the local Celtic-punk band knows the evening is not without its hazards.
“The worst thing is that everyone thinks, ‘Maybe I can grab one of these guys and do a shot!'” guitarist Mike Pawula says with a laugh. “For them, that’s their one experience to have a drink with us, but they forget that we have that same experience with 999 other people, and it’s very dangerous! We try to mind our P’s and Q’s and just try to focus so the show goes off without a hitch.
“There’s a lot of beer thrown. There are shoes thrown, and it’s a bit of minefield on stage sometimes. But every year has gotten better, and it’s a fun time.”
Indeed, as they celebrate the band’s 15th anniversary, Pawula, vocalist and mandolin player Tony Duggins, bassist and accordion player Dan Shaw, tin whistle player Aaron Duggins, fiddle player Rebecca Manthe and drummer Bones remain one of the most invigorating live experiences on the local music scene. What’s more, the group recently released the seventh and arguably the strongest studio album of its career, “On a Fine Spring Evening.”
While earlier Tossers albums such as “Long Dim Road” (2000) and “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” (2005) all have their moments, the new album is more consistent and controlled–the old punk fury is still in evidence, but it’s paired with a dynamic control and impressive musicianship that recalls folk-rockers Fairport Convention.
“Making this album a lot more collaborative was definitely something we all talked about, in terms of the arrangements and the feel, and we wood-shedded this time a lot more than for the last couple of records,” Pawula says. The songs usually start with a basic melodic idea from frontman Tony Duggins, which can be as simple as the a cappella ditties he sometimes delivers onstage in between full-throttle eruptions.
“Then we’ll basically spin it off and change tempos or play with cutting verses off or whatnot. We’ll play the song all sorts of different ways together. When I talk about wood-shedding, there was a lot of, ‘Hey, why don’t we try this’ or ‘Let’s try that.'”
And despite the group being a fairly large one, sometimes augmented by additional backing vocals and banjo, the musicians have become less concerned with everyone playing all the time.
“Sometimes in the past, it was a little bit more difficult for anybody to say anything to anybody else,” Pawula says. “I think the fact that it has been seven records now, everyone’s more secure with trying different things. We kind of have the attitude of, ‘Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It was three minutes of our life.’ So there weren’t a lot of hurt feelings on this record, and there were suggestions from bass players to drummers, violin players to whistle players.
“Now, we’ve been together so long, we also realize that, like songs on a record, albums in a catalog all sort of have their own personalities and represent a point in time. I like the fact that a lot of this one is a little more upbeat. It was fun to do and the songs are fun to play, and it’s the only record that a lot of us have listened to a lot afterwards.”
As the band prepares to tour in support of the album this spring, the disc also has the potential to reach the largest audience of the band’s career, thanks to the wider distribution of Victory Records and the increasing popularity of fellow Celtic-punk bands and sometimes tour-mates the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. The Tossers formed years before either of those groups, and many young fans are beginning to realize they’re the essential link between the current scene and venerated Old World godfathers the Pogues.
Where does Pawula think the group fits on this green punk spectrum?
“Honestly, I don’t think we as a band collectively think of ourselves in reference to any of those bands. Certainly we were a Pogues-influenced band; we give them all the props in the world. And with these other bands, I’m not being political, but good luck to them; we’re happy for them. We’re actually pretty good friends with the guys in the Dropkick Murphys, and we’re different than they are.
“I think if we were the band that would get bitter or bitchy about [groups working in a similar style], we wouldn’t have been together for so long. The truth is, we really like being in this band.”
The Tossers, Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians
9 p.m. Saturday [March 14]
Metro, 3730 N. Clark
(773) 549-4140, www.metrochicago.com