Celtic punk barely exists in Ireland. I should know: in trying to track down an Irish-based celtic punk band for a guide book article a year or so back, I learned that here there are plenty of Irish (but not celtic) punk bands, or small celtic-influenced acts playing pub back rooms. Dropkick Murphys have always seemed like something of an ode to plastic paddy-dom, with the Bostonians a touch too brazenly nationalist to be rolled out by those who aren’t proclaiming themselves Irish from afar. Based on tonight’s show, though, when they do arrive they strike one giant, clanging chord.
Most recent record Going Out In Style has become a surprisingly huge-selling album in the States, peaking at number six in the Billboard charts. Like most of the Murphys’ records, it’s not unlike listening to a very angry poet recite folk limericks after 14 pints, against the backdrop of an equally drunk and irate trad band. They’re easy to poke fun at, especially if you spend any time around Temple Bar, but while theirs might be music best saved for downing whiskeys and destroying your vocal chords, the weighty backlog Murphys now pack is raucously exceptional live.
Tonight’s set starts slow. Sure, there are people flinging themselves wildly about in the front few rows right from the off (two even manage to get themselves thrown out less than a minute in), but song-wise, things are relatively toned down, allowing the bagpipes and harmonica to grab an occasional lead amongst simple yet livid chords. The adaptations of traditional staples like ‘The Gang’s All Here’, ‘The Wild Rover’ and ‘Fields Of Athenry’ are witty musical fusions, and in their own constructs, Murphys are more than capable of sounding just as mashed.
In amongst the exuberant silliness of tracks like drinking anthem ‘Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced’, though, Dropkicks do manage to convey a serious message, not least in their pro-unions stance in ‘For Boston’ and ‘Take ‘Em Down’. Surprisingly, the nuance is there, too, unveiled today in the form of four acoustic tracks performed perched on stools without the slightest hint of irony. This isn’t always funny for the right reasons, but the performance is a seamless balance of punk shabbiness and trad heart. In the moment, the clichés are easy to forget.
The acoustic tracks might serve as a break in the unmitigated carnage going on down the front, but it was never going to last. It’s become traditional for the Murphys to close their shows by progressively pulling around 50 members of the crowd onto the stage, until you can barely see the band. What follows is a charade of all-girl snogging, flag-waving and bassist-groping. We’re sweating as one, Mohicans poking at eyeballs, and songs that belong to banjos – adapted for bass – swirling bitterly yet amusingly in our skulls. We know it’s silly, especially when the AC/DC covers come to town. With passion like tonight’s though, we’re just too loved up – and possibly too shitfaced – to care. James Hendicott
As published in AU Magazine, February 2012.