Writers exaggerate. It’s what we do. It is our craft.
That said, it is without exaggeration that this reviewer states the following:
Dropkick Murphys dropkicked my ass last Tuesday night.
Admittedly, prior to attending the show, this was a band that had not fully penetrated my personal sphere. A certain familiarity was unavoidable, of course. If you’ve seen Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s impossible not to recognize the song, I’m Shipping Up To Boston, and its chugging freight train of a hook (even if, like myself, you were unacquainted with the band who wrote it). Yet now, having experienced Dropkick Murphys up front, in person, and full in the face, this reviewer feels the seedling growing inside him, like the addicting earworm slithering through virtually every single one of their songs.
This summer’s From Boston To Berkley Tour pulled into Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island on August 8th in support of the band’s new album, 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory, their latest collection of fast, exigent, pertinent songs about the grittiness and hope of life’s fluctuating spectrum of experience. Led by sole original member, Ken Casey (bass/vocals), drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist/vocalist James Lynch, and lead vocalist Al Barr (possibly the only other man in all of music –besides Casey- who can pull off the Brian Johnson headwear and get away with it), the Murphs’ gigantic sound is fleshed out by Tim Brennan and Jeff DaRosa, two extraordinary multi-instrumentalists bringing all the whimsical textural elements of accordion, banjo, mando, bouzouki, tin whistle, pianos and keys, as well as additional guitars and vocals.
After rousing sets by Jake Burns and Bouncing Souls, the crowd seems to gather itself, drawing the thickening dusk air into a communal set of lungs, holding it as the sun dips slowly out of view before vanishing altogether. Then, all at once, a huge breath of anticipation goes rushing out in one fierce, hungry roar as co-headliners Rancid take the stage, ripping through a searing selection of crowd favorites, laden heavily with hits from their gargantuan 1995 album, …And Out Come the Wolves.
Punkers young and old; fans of all ages, shapes, and sizes; a spotted sea of heads shaven, shorn, spiked, mohawked, twisted, tied, and dyed. An oddly specific quasi-diversity runs through the pasty crowd like a hotwire current; melding the hipster contingency (replete with thin beards, skinny jeans, and bobbing man-buns) into the denim-clad, studded-leather-and-combat-boot company of hardcore street punks.
One might think a mob of concertgoers in varying phases of inebriation would likely have sung itself out after shouting every word back to the band…for over an hour…at the very top of that communal set of lungs.
Indeed. One might think. Though one would be wrong.
Once again the lights go down. Once again the roar flares up.
As if on cue, as if intended to be part of the show (isn’t it though?), the gloriously enchanting aroma of sweet, primo ganja drifts among the multitudinous horde in accompaniment of a soaring siren chorus of beautiful prerecorded voices. One imagines a choir of Celtic angels, serenading the countryside as a thick, billowing fog descends from the mountains; and through this fog, the ghostly rumbling of a galloping army storming into battle. This is the prelude to the opening number, The Lonesome Boatman, which also happens to kick off the new record. It is the perfect jumpstart to an explosive set of rowdy singalong tunes covering everything from drinking and fighting, to war, poverty, and the struggles of the working class.
Attendees know by the first chords of the second song, The Boys Are Back (“and they’re lookin for trouble!”), that the boys are most certainly back, and Chicago is absolutely the right place for a body to find trouble if a body is so inclined. Pay no mind to the two stabbings that take place at the show. Police have since apprehended a suspect.
Dipping generously into the back catalog, Tuesday’s set sprinkles a few tracks from the new album into the mix like a pungent spice: sparingly. I Had a Hat, a raucous pub song cover, and the anthemic Blood (“If you want blood, we’ll give you some; straight from the heart ‘til the job is done”), bookend the classic stomper, The Gang’s All Here and the righteous “Hurroo!” of Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya.
Fourteen dollar beers fly toward the stage like mortars, showering the crowd, the band, and the crew in grotesquely overpriced libations, in fitting compliment to flashing stock footage of wartime strife, desolation, and racial unrest projected on the giant backdrop screen. A common theme illustrates the human cost of war, in terms of bodies, in terms of lives, in terms of the often-overlooked effects on children, who imitate romanticized images of bloody battle and the glorification of war; playing “army” with toy guns in the woods with their friends, perhaps without comprehending the sad fact that many brave soldiers don’t come home unless it’s in a flag-draped coffin; a hidden truth, never acknowledged by the complicit corporate media.
Mid-set, Mr. Casey pauses for a quick shout out to the guys in Rancid, and a heartfelt “thank you to Tim (Armstrong), who signed us to Hellcat Records, and Lars (Frederiksen), who produced our first two albums,” before tearing into a four-song medley from the band’s 1998 full length debut, Do or Die.
Vape clouds emanate from the throng like geysers of crowd-supplied pyrotechnics, effecting an eerie battlefield motif redolent of the fog of war, amplified to a chilling degree by glimmering staccato strobe lights, capturing puffs of smoke in snapshots of frozen time. Faves like Curse of a Fallen Soldier and The Gauntlet keep the needle in the red for concert staples, Rose Tattoo (preceded by a spot-lit fan proposal; she said “Yes,” despite some besotted moron yelling “Don’t do it!”) and the hot banjo intro of The State of Massachusetts, before the comical what-if-I-could-attend-my-own-funeral gaff of Going out in Style. The kilt-clad piccolo flautist is vocally appreciated by several of his kilted brethren in the audience.
And another expensive beer is catapulted toward the stage.
Baggy pants and cargo shorts wade into the thicket of faces and bodies both pierced and unpierced, tatted and non-tatted; tee shirts sporting bold proclamations of radicalism, nationalism, anarchism, and a bitter antipathy toward a certain incurable disease: (F@ck Cancer). A guy who looks like Wavy Gravy weaves between the tall kid in a Misfits shirt and the dude in a sleeveless jeans jacket with a Germs patch, to meet up with a guy who could totally pass for Iggy Pop in dim lighting. Parents prop small children on shoulders while a proud papa tells a friend how he smoked a joint with his kid last week. Sweaty, wasted, shirtless dudes mill about, lewdly observing braless young females advertising the freedom of being unencumbered, despite –or perhaps because of—their purposely and strategically torn backless halter tees.
What Dropkick Murphys show would be complete without the aforementioned I’m Shipping Up To Boston? Let us hope we don’t find out, because it’s still as fresh as it was over a decade ago, and the band delivers it like a one-two punch with the closing song, Until the Next Time; a rousing barroom chorus, seemingly crafted for the sole purpose of singing arm-in-arm with all of your drunken friends, loudly into each other’s faces, breathing beer fumes and whiskey breath as you celebrate another evening of debauchery: “We’ll meet again, don’t know when, don’t know when. We all had a good time and we’re sad to see it end. Good luck be with you. You’ll go your way, I’ll go mine. So until the next time, it’s farewell and not goodbye.”
We certainly hope so, boys. We certainly hope so.
As to be expected when two iconic outfits hit the road together, an encore mash-up of both co-headlining bands draws the night to a close, though not before a detailed explanation of the charitable intent behind this summer’s excursion. The From Boston To Berkley Tour is a fundraising/awareness campaign for both the Claddagh Fund, a self-established organization by the Dropkick Murphys to aid in addiction recovery (as well as children’s and veteran’s services), and Muzack, a 501c-3 designed to provide musical education and instruments to underprivileged kids. Fans have the opportunity to contribute via the purchase of $20 Charity Challenge Coins, one featuring Rancid and one featuring the Murphs. All proceeds will be split between these two causes. To show their appreciation, the bands fly through a handful of covers, from the Man in Black’s Folsom Prison Blues and the Ramones’ Cretin Hop, to Sham 69’s If the Kids Are United (“This song is the reason I play bass!” an excited fan shares), and finally I Fought the Law by The Crickets.
It’s safe to say, given the intensity of this experience, that there is no other place in the world where a man can stand straddled atop a stage monitor and cut a slashing banjo solo, hoisting his axe to the sky as a beacon to Valhalla, and the frothing crowd goes absolutely fucking insane.
Shamrock n’ Roll, boy-o!
Photo courtesy of Ryan Stuchly.