For the last fifteen-or-so years, Massachusetts-based Celtic punk icons Dropkick Murphys playing a string of hometown shows has become as synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day as their musical forebears Mighty Mighty Bosstones doing a similar thing has been with Christmastime. As the band’s popularity has increased, so too has the size of venues at these St. Patrick’s weekend shenanigans, and the last two years have featured dates at the Agganis Arena, the state-of-the-art, 7200-capacity hockey rink located on the campus of Boston University. For many bands, the tendency on such a large stage might be to play “just the hits” in order to cater to the casual fans, but Dropkick Murphys, as it turns out, are not one of those bands. Say what you will about their level of “Tessie”/”Shipping Up To Boston”- inspired fame, but Dropkick Murphys have long been conscious or remembering the fans that’ve been there since the days when the clubs they played would fit within the confines of the stage of the Agganis (case in point: yours truly first saw the Dropkicks in August 1997, when they played in between the Mr. Rogers Project and The Pietasters at the Living Room in Providence).
A confetti cannon (seen above) and the instrumental “Lonesome Boatman” from the Dropkicks’ latest release 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory (released January 6th on their own Born & Bred Records) introduced the band to the stage before they proceeded to launch into their 2007 hit “State Of Massachusetts.” If I can take a minute to inject myself into this story, here’s where I publicly apologize to Ken Casey & Company. I think it’s important to point out that I count myself as one of those hometown fans that’s been hypercritical (unfairly so) of the band over the last dozen post-“Tessie” years, though that’s strictly a musical critique; their tremendous fundraising and community work and their ongoing penchant for giving local bands a break is not only beyond reproach but is ultimately the stuff to which all bands should aspire. But I’ll tell you what…since the 90 minute set that began with the opening tenor banjo riff on “…Massachusetts,” yours truly has been not only back aboard the Good Ship Murphys, but more than a little embarrassed about having jumped off in the first place.
The setlist on this night, as on most nights, was pretty varied and all-encompassing. Sure 11 Short Stories… was well represented, but so too were earlier albums like Do Or Die, Blackout and The Warrior’s Code on songs like “Boys On The Docks,” “Time To Go,” and, of course, the latter album’s title track, which is a shoutout to local boxing legend “Irish” Micky Ward who was, of course, in attendance. What’s perhaps most impressive about a Dropkick Murphys set circa 2017, aside maybe from their ability to keep a crowd constantly fired up, is the level of sheer musicianship among the group’s core. Ken Casey is, by his own admission, not the world’s most astute bass player, but he’s also their unquestionable heart-and-soul. Drummer Matt Kelly and principle frontman Al Barr are about as quietly strong-up-the-middle as you’ll find. Like the band as a whole, the trio of Tim Brennan, Jeff DeRosa and Kevin Rheault (longtime tech who’s filling in for James Lynch on this run), however, don’t get nearly enough credit. At any given time, the three trade off between guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, tin whistle and keyboard duties, rarely manning the same battle station for more than two or three songs in a row. The seamless nature that things seem to run in that regard is really awesome, in the literal sense of the word.
Direct support on this night, as on the bulk of the month-long tour, came from The Interrupters. The ska punk quartet have been mighty busy over the last nine months or so since releasing their sophomore album, Say It Out Loud; since playing the duration of last year’s Warped Tour, they headlined full Europe and US tours of their own before heading back across the pond to open for Green Day immediately before this Dropkicks spot. It’s no secret that The Interrupters have been one of yours truly’s favorite bands to cover over the last few years, and performances like this particular one exemplify why, at least in part. The insanely talented (and yet somehow still wildly underrated) rhythm section of twin brothers Jesse (drums) and Justin (bass) Bivona keep the gas pedal floored, with Justin teaming with big brother Kevin (guitar, above) and frontwoman Aimee “Interrupter” as a three-headed ball of constant frenetic energy at the front of the stage. As Kevin mentioned when we caught up for an interview on these pages last year, the band are mindful that they’ve developed a sound product that definitely works, and if anything critical can be said of how they’ve made it work at the end of another long, successful tour run, it’s almost that they make it look TOO easy. (Oh, and they’re one of the only bands that can cover an Operation Ivy classic, “Sound System,” without sounding like a cheap, watered-down knockoff.)
Also opening this night (and most of the rest of the tour) was genuine Irish punk band Blood Or Whiskey. With all apologies to the Dublin-based sextet, a variety of communication mishaps between arena staff lead yours truly on a half-hour-long wild goose chase that resulted in me missing the entirety of their set, save for a song about frontman Dugs Mulhooly’s favorite pub back home closing down, only to be replaced by a coffee shop. Sorry lads…we’ll catch you next time around, we promise.
Head below for our full photo gallery from the Interrupters and Dropkick Murphys sets. And a special thanks to my much younger brother from another mother Nick Gold for the assist. Good on ya, bud.