‘Times They Are A-Changin’ for the Kissers

Sean Ammerman

If you’ve ever wondered what Irish-rock sounds like, The Kissers will show you tonight at the Outpost.

Credit: Ben Breier


The Kissers

Playing with Chittlin’

When? 10:30 p.m., tonight

Where? The Outpost

How much? 18+: $12, 21+: $10


The Kissers knew they had to take their act on the road after the bar where they played weekly gigs burned down.

As practically the only Irish-rock band out of Madison, Wis., bassist and lead singer Ken Fitzsimmons said the group was developing a strong following when its employer reached its crispy demise.

“We got a little more popular than we ever anticipated,” Fitzsimmons said. “That’s when we decided to make things serious.”

Fitzsimmons originally formed The Kissers as a cover band for the Celtic-punk group the Pogues. He eventually began to work in originals, and now four years later, the group is touring for its second album Good Fight.

The music features classic Celtic instruments such as accordion, tin whistle and fiddle, and joins them with a rock back beat.

With the new album, Fitzsimmons said the band wanted to take that combination and make it more cohesive.

“It’s clearly down the same road (as the first album),” he said, “but it’s further down the same road.”

Fitzsimmons said he has seen a great response from audiences this past year, despite playing everything from heavy metal to punk and even Irish hip-hop.

“We’re starting to establish our own sound – our own version of Celtic rock,” he said. “Somebody called it Celtic roots and roll. I kind of like that.”

As its title suggests, Good Fight features several politically charged songs. This stems from growing up in Madison, Fitzsimmons said, where residents are opinionated.

“For Madison, the right-wing politics are Democrats, and the left-wing politics are the Greens and Socialists, and the Republicans are this kind of bizarre, extreme right wing thing that nobody can understand,” he said.

Fitzsimmons’ dad, who is a labor cartoonist, even drew the political album art for Good Fight.

Songs like “What They Can,” “No War” and “Pictures at an Execution” deal with such topics as the working class, capital punishment and, of course, the war in Iraq.

The protest nature of its songs has even got the band into trouble at some of its shows. At a recent performance in Johnstown, Pa., the band played “No War” to a crowd that was divided from the events surrounding Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha’s criticisms of President George Bush’s Iraq exit policy.

Fitzsimmons said the song generated a mixture of boos and applause, however, he was approached by a few supporters afterward.

“One woman came up to me and shook my hand and said ‘thanks a lot for your ‘No War’ song, you have a lot of balls playing that around here,'” he said. “I should have corrected her and said ‘No, it was sheer ignorance.'”

The presence of political songs on the band’s album may cause some to assume it is strictly in it for the issues. That’s not the case, Fitzsimmons said.

“When we wrote this album we weren’t trying to be political,” Fitzsimmons said. “It just sort of came out that way.”

Some of their songs come off as such unintentionally. Their song “Captain George” sounds like an ode to Bush on first listen (“O Captain George when are we gonna sail ashore/ O Captain George I have forgotten what we’re fighting for”), but Fitzsimmons insists it’s about an obsessive sea commander.

“I don’t disagree that it fits,” he said. “But it was just meant to be like a Captain Ahab kind of thing.”

Whether the message is intended or not, Fitzsimmons still believes mixing politics with rock-and-roll is relevant, even in a time when protest songs are used in pharmacy commercials. He doesn’t expect to convert the world to his beliefs but thinks of it a good way to bring up issues.

“Even if playing a song makes someone think about it when they haven’t before,” he said, “that’s an accomplishment.”

Contact ALL correspondent Sean Ammerman at [email protected].