United we kick
Boston’s Dropkick Murphys proves at the Brick Works that revolutionary punk rock is still kicking.
It’s a fairly common sentiment among the over-30 set that punk rock is a used-up medium long ago co-opted by the mainstream capitalist establishment and drained of whatever vital, revolutionary energy it may have once possessed.
But, as usual, the old farts are wrong.
Anyone who doubts that should have been at the Brick Works last Sunday evening when Boston’s Dropkick Murphys delivered a generous set of working-class punk anthems and electrified Irish folk songs to a very enthused young crowd. I knew the band had charisma when the roadie testing the guitars casually peeled off a few riffs that transfixed the audience during the stage set up.
The Murphys have been taking their show on the road since 1996, and their years of experience manifest themselves in a stage presentation that literally erases the boundary between performers and audience, sweeping everyone up in a cathartic whirlpool of shared experience.
Starting off with a recording of the dramatic pipes and drums of Sinead O’Connor’s rendition of “The Foggy Dew,” the Murphys were greeted by a shouted chorus of “Oi!” from the audience that drowned out O’Connor as the band launched into its set. The crowd adjusted itself to accommodate a mosh pit that managed to surge around the dance floor for most of the show without causing much damage, perhaps due in part to lead singer Al Barr’s exhortations to enjoy the show and refrain from throwing random punches.
The Murphys great appeal is grounded in the convincing fulfillment of their self-appointed role as unifying element, and the quality of musicianship displayed by all the members is a convincing demonstration of the power of unified effort. This show revolved around material from the just-released new album, Blackout, and included the album’s guest piper, Joe Delaney, and guest vocalist, Stephanie Doughtery, both of whom did a marvelous job on the drinker’s lament “The Dirty Glass,” which relates a novel’s worth of relationship problems in three verses and a chorus.
The most surreal show-biz moment of the night occurred when young women from the audience were invited onto the stage to dance during “Buried Alive,” a song about surviving (or not) a mining disaster. Somehow it seemed to work and perhaps dissipate a bit of the angst projected through the next song, “The Outcast,” which portrays the vicissitudes of one who chooses an outlaw life but really just craves security and freedom of choice.
Which was nicely counterbalanced by the following “Worker’s Song (Handful of Earth),” a paean to the efforts of those who are “the first ones to starve and the first ones to die/ the first ones in line for that pie in the sky / and always the last when the cream is dished out / for the worker is working when the fat cat’s about.”
One can only hope that the Murphys’ well-articulated anger at social injustice, wedded to their justified pride in the strength to endure, is more than a formula for a dismal working-class complacency. Judging from the response to their encore numbers—Tim Hardin’s "If I Were a Carpenter," which stilled the house to a reflective silence, and their punk rock version of the Kingston Trio’s "The Man Who Never Returned," there is still great strength in unity and at least a shred of hope for punk as a catalyst for social revolution.