It has been said that the folk of Boston do Irish better than the Irish. That Gaelic heart mixed with boundless American enthusiasm. If you combine that with hard rock guitars and punk drumbeat, you get The Dropkick Murphys. And when their set includes a sing-along rendition of ‘The Wild Rover’ under the beaming effigy of St. Patrick surrounded by clover spotlights, it’s easy to see how this infamously energetic band earned their fame playing the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Like Pogues before them, Murphys are the proudest sons of The Sod not born on it.
After suitably spirited support from Skinny Lister and Slapshot, the lights went down for Murphys to Sinead O’Connor’s ‘The Foggy Dew’. Through the gloom came Jeff DaRosa’s haunting pennywhistle, drifting through the arena like fog over the Liffey. A few lingering moments of hypnotising Gaelic mysticism, before the rest of the band burst from the shadows for the chant-like fist-pumper ‘Lonesome Boatman’. That blend of folksy heritage and electric energy set the tone for the performance. And like successive shots of Jameson’s, it only got rowdier from there.
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Murphys’ lengthy set was a hearty broth of their older rougher Celtic punk material and the pounding arena-tailored Springsteenism of their more recent releases, with a few covers and traditionals (like the aforementioned Wild Rover) thrown in for spice. Despite their old-school stylings, they also embraced the projection screen, with near-every song featuring visuals or on-screen lyrics. The early side of the set saw distorted veterans like ‘The State of Massachusetts’ and ‘The Warrior’s Code’, the latter featuring footage of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward, alongside rousing acoustic-led newbies like ‘Rebels With A Cause’ ‘Sandlot’ and ‘Blood’. They also paid tribute to late The Business frontman Micky Fitz, with The Business guitarist Steve Kent joining them for a folksified cover of their 1988 track ‘Coventry’.
Hangover-voiced bassist Ken Casey was their backbone, growling down his mic and swinging his bass like a shillelagh. The crowd, Guinnessed-up and shamrock-draped, were as raucous as Titanic’s Third Class Party, jam-packed with Irishmen in blood and in soul. Vocalist Al Barr was their general on the battlements, mustering war-cries from the legions with every sky-punch, whilst traditionally-kilted piper Lee Forshner stood guardian over it all like the unquiet spirit from some long-forgotten battlefield.
Murphys ran the home-straight to the encore with a three-punch knock-out of the quasi-Dubliners hit ‘Rose Tattoo’, a passionate cover of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (to the delight of a party of pint-totting Liverpudlians) and the nautical punk-jig ‘Shipping Up To Boston’. They were back on the stage moments later to the (unsurprising) tune of ‘The Boys Are Back’. With the end drawing near, they turned their last fifteen-minutes into one long finale. The band called every woman they could find onto the stage for a thirty-strong sing-along of head-swayer ‘Kiss Me, I’m #!@’faced’, joined by the fellas right after for ‘Skinhead on the MBTA’. By the time Murphys wrapped with punk-rock swan-song ‘Until The Next Time’, every honest soul in the arena was either jigging on the stage, jigging in front of it, or desperately downing their pints.
The Dropkick Murphys know their stuff. Their years of experience turning drunken crowds into honorary Irishmen tells. Under the façade of devil-may-care punks lies a team of practiced showmen, experts at encouraging a crowd to sing, dance, and buy inadvisable amounts of alcohol and all with a smile on their face. With the weight of their old world heritage they feel oddly timeless. Despite the guitars, the drums, and the punk-tinged lyrics, the music of the Murphys often feels like it’s always been there. You find yourself singing even if you don’t know the words, and dancing with people you’ve never met. Their music, like the Irish folk it is built on, works to bring people together. Like the old adage about folk music, ‘It was old when it was written, and it will always be young’.