Roaring drinking and fighting songs, but this is about as punk as Pink, says Andrew Johnston
It’s ironic that actual Irish punk bands can’t fill the back room of a pub, while the Dropkick Murphys – who play banjos and tin whistles and sing about ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’, but are actually a bunch of ex-skinheads from a suburb of Boston – can sell out venues around the world. The Murphys, along with fellow Irish-Americans Flogging Molly, are spearheading a new, chart-bothering wave of Celtic punk.
Yet, despite their recent US top-20 success and high-profile gigs with the likes of Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen, the Murphys’ appeal, at least in Belfast, may have reached a glass ceiling.
After playing progressively larger venues in the city over the past few years (the Limelight in 2005, the Spring & Airbrake in 2006, the Mandela Hall in 2008), the group’s latest show has been downgraded from a half hall at St George’s Market to the Mandela – a drop in around 700 tickets.
If the band are fazed – and behind the scenes, a broken-down tour bus is adding to their woes – they certainly don’t show it.
After a by-the-numbers set by openers Face to Face – hackneyed chord progressions and rote stage moves make for something of a punk rock 101 – the room erupts as the Murphys swagger out and launch straight into a rowdier-than-hell version of ‘For Boston’, the traditional fight song of Boston College.
The seven-piece mix old with new, roaring through covers of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ and ‘The Auld Triangle’, as well as the Martin Scorsese-approved ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’, from the soundtrack of The Departed.
Of their original material, ‘Bastards on Parade’ and ‘Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced’ have all the subtlety of a spade to the head, but they get the message across. If the punked-up covers – the Murphys also play ‘The Fighting 69th’ and a reworded take on ‘Charley on the MTA’ – overshadow the group’s own songs, then their committed performance makes up for it.
Singer Al Barr and bassist Ken Casey – who also handles some lead vocals, but would be best leaving it to Barr – win over the fans with their Boston banter, while the rest of the band keep the tuneful noise coming.
Bagpipes, buzzsaw guitars and clattering drums create a mighty wall of sound. It’s rabble-rousing stuff, delivered with fire and passion, belying the musicians’ advancing years (Barr is 41, Casey a few years ahead of him).
Yet, for all the singing about drinking and fighting, this is a slick, calculated rock show – like Kiss in kilts. The only alcohol onstage is thrown there by the boozed-up audience, and is quickly mopped up by the Murphys’ road crew. Even two stage invasions fail to raise the roof.
Sure, it’s all just a bit of fun, but you can’t help feeling that the mass of 17-year-old boys in freshly pressed Rancid and Green Day t-shirts, diligently obeying roadies’ requests to stay back from the edge of the stage and to give Barr and Casey room, is about as punk as Pink.
Photos by Paul McGlade, see more at www.paulmcglade.tv