As I wandered towards the O2 City Hall, feeling the cold, January air around my face, I recalled that today was also known as Blue Monday. This is not a celebration of a classic New Order song, but allegedly the most depressing day of the year. How true is that? It’s debatable. The concept was created to sell holidays. However, would I see any sign of this malaise permeating around the venue?
Hailing from Quincy, Massachusetts, Dropkick Murphys have released eleven studio albums during their 27-year history; eight of them providing songs for tonight’s setlist. Their latest album, This Machine Still Kills Fascists, was a deviation from their usual sound, creating an acoustic recording featuring a series of unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics.
As the lights dimmed in the City Hall, the sound of ‘Foggy Dew’ performed by Sinéad O’Connor and The Chieftans wafted across the crowd. This haunting sound helped to build the atmosphere. On the stage, candlelight illuminated the set – crosses, statues of the Virgin Mary and a selection of skulls and roses – with a table set up to resemble an altar. Were we at a gig or Holy Communion?
The band took to the stage to huge cheers and kicked off the night with ‘The Lonesome Boatman’. Lead singer, Ken Casey, bounced about the stage like Tigger on a sugar rush, whipping up the crowd. It was already clear that this was not going to be a mild-mannered gig. As I steadied myself to take another photo in the pit (who says a man cannot multitask), Casey leapt from the stage to be with the crowd. Amongst the crowd, there was much rejoicing. Fist bumps and high fives abounded. You could feel the genuine love and passion for this band from the fans, and from the band to the fans.
‘The Boys Are Back’ and ‘The State of Massachusetts’ continued this electric start. Casey kept alternating between conducting the crowd and draping himself over the barriers to connect with the fans. Other band members careered across the stage, dodgem cars with instruments, clearly enjoying the experience.
The high tempo continued as ‘Good as Gold’ kept the crowd bouncing. The audience then appeared to be showing derision as hands were raised with the single-digit salute. Don’t worry folks, it was just the start of ‘Middle Finger’, a song about railing against the world irrespective of whether it’s worthwhile or beneficial. Remember, pick your battles carefully, kids.
We came to a point in proceedings I was curious about beforehand – how would the new tracks from This Machine Still Kills Fascists go down with the audience? Would they fit into the set or stand out like a sore thumb? I watched attentively as the first few bars of ‘Two 6’s Upside Down’ slipped into the ears of the crowd. Heads started nodding, toes tapping. Loud applause when the song ended. Success. The song slotted in seamlessly into the set, complementing the more traditional Dropkick Murphys songs. Job done. This continued with ‘All You Fonies’, another from their latest release. My concerns were assuaged, and normal service resumed as ‘Turn Up That Dial’ and ‘Barroom Hero’ saw the band back on familiar ground. It helped to encourage some sporadic crowd surfing. Watching one gentleman floating and spinning across a sea of hands, I noticed the sound desk were on board with the stage design as several candles were spread along the front of their little piece of real estate. Nice.
As the band worked through the middle of their set, I indulged in a bit of people-spotting. You might expect a band that’s been around for 27 years to have an older audience. Yeah, there were some over-50s, but there were a lot of younger people in the audience too. This is a band that is still being discovered and appreciated. They remain relevant. Also, the mix of band t-shirt and hoodies were interesting too: Ferocious Dog, Angelic Upstarts, NOFX, Circle Jerks, Motörhead, The Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Levellers to name a few. Not a bad collection to be associated with. There were a few Boston Bruins tops on display too.
Things became a little more serious when Casey highlighted the issues we face in the world, along with the recent birthday of Martin Luther King Jr (he would have been 93 years old on 15th January). He led us into a former gospel song, ‘We Shall Overcome’, made famous as an American civil rights movement anthem and recorded by Pete Seeger in 1947, where he added some additional lyrics to create the version we know today. Of course, it has been given the Dropkick Murphys treatment.
Ever wondered where the band name comes from? No? Well, I will tell you anyway. They are named after former wrestler and owner of Bellows Farm Sanitorium, John ‘Dropkick’ Murphy. The fellow Bay Stater’s sanitorium was an alcohol rehab centre. You can thrill and amaze your friends with that little nugget. Ideal for dinner parties.
From the solemnity of a song of hope, we sprint head first into a brick wall with ‘Smash Shit Up’. That was an uppercut I didn’t see coming! Thankfully for the owners of the venue, the crowd didn’t take Casey literally. Although Casey is the figurehead, the band are a collection of rather fine musicians who add as much to the event as their main man. They all seem to feed off each other’s energy and desire to perform.
Jaime Wyatt joined the band on stage for ‘Never Git Drunk No More’, going base over apex as she left the stage. Thankfully, she was fine. Jesse Ahern, the first support act of the evening, then added his guitar and vocals to ‘Worker’s Song’. This turned out to be a little bit of respite before the final knockout onslaught was to be delivered.
As Casey announced ‘Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya’, a huge roar went up - the audience went all in. They had refreshed themselves with a few tubs of drinkin’ juice and were ready to party. The crowd singing went up a couple of notches and the waving of arms and clapping of hands spread around the venue like a virus. An outbreak of crowd surfing ensued. Surely, they wouldn’t keep this up? How wrong was I?!
Perennial favourite ‘Rose Tattoo’ came next, and the electricity was cranked up yet further. Casey was again mixing it with the crowd. He must have sore hands with the amount of fist bumping he did throughout the night. On stage, the band were bouncing, feeding off the audience’s vibe. As I looked across the crowd, I was amazed at the number of legs I was seeing between the waving arms. Several bodies were lifted over the barriers and allowed to rejoin with minimum fuss. Credit to the security at O2 City Hall, they were spot on. No fuss, just get them over safely and back into the crowd. There were also several t-shirts being thrown about amongst the audience. I hope they had other clothing as it was -3° Celcius when I left the gig.
The knockout blow was delivered with aplomb when ‘Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced’ got everyone singing at the top of their voice. It’s a great song with a wry honesty and a fitting climax. The band wandered off for a minute before returning for a four-song encore. I will never understand the point of planned encores, but that’s for another day. The Ewan MacColl classic ‘Dirty Old Town’ started off the dessert section of the evening with the audience providing backing vocals – some were even in tune. ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’, another fan favourite (the bands most listened-to song on Spotify with over 242 million streams – you’re welcome), reignited the audience for one final round of physical mayhem. ‘Boys on the Docks’ and ‘The Dirty Glass’ (with Jaime Wyatt) brought the night to a more than satisfactory conclusion for the near-capacity crowd.
The night was good value with three support acts warming up the crowd. Pennywise and Jesse Ahern certainly did their bit. I want to highlight The Rumjacks as a fine band and one I recommend you investigate further, though only when you’ve finished reading this review.
This was the first time I’d seen Dropkick Murphys live. I was impressed with their performance, their energy and their willingness to connect with their fans. Would I see them again? Absolutely! However, next time I may just go as a punter as it looked like a lot of fun being in amongst the madness. I want to be in the mix, flailing my arms like a crazed Kermit the Frog, fist-bumping Ken Casey and singing until I’m hoarse. Simple pleasures…
The Lonesome Boatmen
The Boys Are Back
The State of Massachusetts
Good as Gold
Two 6’s Upside Down
All You Fonies
Turn Up That Dial
Famous For Nothing
Queen of Suffolk County
The Last One
We Shall Overcome
Smash Shit Up
Where Trouble Is At
Never Git Drunk No More
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced
Dirty Old Town
I’m Shipping Up To Boston
Boys on the Docks
The Dirty Glass