Dropkick Murphys House of Blues Monday, February 27
A Dropkick Murphys show isn't one to hold surprises, nor is it one to attend when you're just looking for a decent night of music. Don't get me wrong, the beloved Celtic punk band's performance last night at House of Blues was spot-on in just about every area, but people weren't there to hear if the tin whistle might hit just the right pitch.
The Massachusetts-born and bred band has done well to market themselves as the official band of not only Boston, but that of its pro sports teams as well. Judging by the amount of previously purchased Dropkick gear, not to mention the Bruins sweaters, Red Sox caps and Celtics jerseys, one would be hard-pressed to find a more loyal fanbase that jumps at the chance to buy into what their favorite punks are selling.
They kicked into a violently enthusiastic "Irish Rover" only after the The Chieftains and Sinéad O'Connor's serene version of "The Foggy Dew" played resplendently over the house P.A. Violent enthusiasm mixed with the right sobering touches would rule the night.
While the brash, ripping songs that make up the majority of the group's 16 years worth of tunes obviously carried much of the weight during the course of the set, it was the seamless changes of pace that gave the show a welcome bit of diversity and breathing room. Lead singers Ken Casey and Al Barr were charismatic in their own ways, especially the lanky, tatted-up Barr, who stalked the front lip of the stage constantly looking like a cross between a bantam-weight, bare-knuckled fighter and an angry M.C. ready to battle on the mic.
The melodic clanging of the mandolin during a somewhat downtempo "Cruel" showed the first of a few musical tricks. The bass-playing Casey introduced a brand new song that seemed to be pulled from Mommy's Little Monster-era Social D, and then ushered the group into an unplugged, seated session that covered the span of three tunes, including "Take 'Em Down," "Devil's Brigade" and "Boys on the Docks." The mid-set acoustic jam is something they've done on other stops during this tour, and it lulled the crowd into actually listening to the tunes as fewer beers flew through the air and a smaller number of bodies were shoved around the room.
Then, through the darkened hall, the opening banjo notes of band's biggest hit, the sweepingly dramatic "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," gave the go-ahead for fans to tear the shit out of the House of Blues. This, by the way, is what a Dropkick show is supposed to be.
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The rhythmic, flute-driven "Broken Hymns" managed to provide a bit of pastoral peace after the jubilant thrashing of the previous song. As the band kicked into long-time favorite (and perhaps one of the greatest singalongs ever), "Kiss Me, I'm Shitfaced," Casey invited any female that could make it on stage to shout along. Seeing the Dropkick Murphys live isn't as much celebrating St. Patty's outside of March 17 as it is experiencing some of Boston's trademark institutions from the comfort of your own city. Over the course of a couple of hours last night, it felt as though I had seen a Sox game at Fenway after eating a bread-bowl of some kick-ass chowder as I looked out onto the harbor at some leaping whales.
Earlier, in the opening set, Englishman Frank Turner displayed why he might be the most engaging performer around, period. Similar to his opening set for Social Distortion in the same venue 16 months ago, Turner delivered joyous pub-rock that drew its spirit from the punk he claims to have grown up on. It shouldn't be too long before bands stop asking him to open for them, as he knows how to hypnotize a crowd with the best of them.
Personal bias: Not much. I've got Irish blood running all through me, but this was my first Dropkick show.
Random note: The band in the first opening slot, Canadian-based Irish punks the Mahones, had the hottest accordion player ever. No joke. Katie McConnell. Seriously.