Better than: A House of Pain show.
The Dropkick Murphys experience started long before the seminal Boston six-piece hit the stage and blasted into a raucous performance of "The Irish Rover." There was a tangible carnival spirit in the confines of the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre. The disparate groups who gathered to see the hardcore punk, Celtic folk outfit made the show a testament to the band's eclectic appeal.
It was a slightly bizarre and disorientating collective in attendance: College kids in Notre Dame T-shirts tailgated next to middle-aged Deadheads, while posses of Boston straight-edge, hardcore tuff guys happily congregated with frat boys sinking Guinnesses. The vibe came not just from the festivities of the inimitable Irish reclaimed self-identity of the Dropkicks but also from a sense of pure fun on a lovely South Florida Saturday evening the weekend before next Saint Patrick's Day.
Before Boston's finest arrived, English troubadour Frank Turner, ably assisted by his backing band the Sleeping Souls, hit the stage for a tight and intense ten-song set. He drew a sizable and energetic early crowd with tracks such as "I Still Believe," "The Road," and "Photosynthesis," delivered as dynamic folk-punk anthems with a wired fervor.
In Europe, Turner sells out venues twice this size as a result of a tireless work ethic. He averages more than 200 shows a year. One sensed from the enthusiastic crowd's reaction and his wild-eyed focus that he won't stop until he reaches the same acclaim in the U.S. Although more English middle-class than the Bostonian urban blue-collar energy followed, the message remained similar.
As soon as he left the stage, chants calling for the headline band were heard around the confines of this most intimate and pleasant of amphitheaters. A stirring and emotive version of Billy Bragg's "There Is a Power in Union" was played over the venue PA and with the lights down. The ethereal strains of the Chieftains "The Foggy Due" heralded the arrival of the Dropkick Murphys.
They hit the stage in a typically furious fashion -- moving swiftly from "The Irish Rover" to other high-energy tracks drawn from their extensive catalog. The bagpipe-led "Going Out in Style," from their most recent release of the same name, provoked angry but good-intentioned circle pits down front and chants of "I don't really give a shit, I'm going out in style" from the thousands gathered on the tiered seating.
A visually impressive outfit, singer Al Barr and bassist and vocalist Ken Casey shared the frontman role, surrounded by the other members who switched among guitar, mandolin, tin whistle, accordion, and banjo. The band prowled the stage like a gang while kilt-wearing bagpipe and tin-whistle player Scruffy Wallace stood aloft the drum riser as both a visually and sonically intrinsic actor in the show.
Tracks such as the more considered "The Burden" from 2005's The Warrior's Code and a breakneck version of "Do or Die" from their debut provided some sonic variety, and when Casey introduced the piano- and bagpipe-driven "Tessie" -- dedicated to all Red Sox fans -- the spirit of Boston was in abundance. The highly genial Casey, the only remaining original member of the band, seemed to be the charismatic heart of the group. The definite warmth that radiated between the band and crowd felt genuinely emotive.
They broke into a seated and, relatively restrained, four-song acoustic set -- an astute move. In particular, "The Warrior's Code" (dedicated to Micky Ward) and "Boys in the Docks" were poignantly delivered. It was the perfect calm before the storm prior to an intense closing run of their greatest hits. "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" sounded huge and was greeted like a long-lost anthem; "Johnny I Hardly Knew You" segued into an epic and sweeping "Broken Hymns," which was followed by a furious "The State of Massachusetts."
Casey descended into the crowd to sing the closing "Kiss Me, I'm Shitfaced" while a leprechaun took his place center stage, dressed in an impeccable tricolor Irish flag and throwing gold rings. The encore descended into joyful chaos as hundreds of fans ascended upon the stage while the band plowed through "Skinhead on the MBTA," a nod to their Boston hardcore roots, before the closing cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds," perhaps an idea of the band are aspiring to be. By then, music had become subservient to the event -- the hundreds of flailing hardcore fans dominated the stage and, in the spirit of the night, took the final rapturous ovation.
Personal bias: They didn't play "The Wild Rover."
The crowd: Punks, skaters, normal folk, drinkers, stoners, bare-chested backward-baseball-cap-wearing dudes, suburban kids with Irish names, weekend warriors, Hollister-wearing preppies, whiskey drinkers, folk-punk bohemians, bearded guys, Oi punk geezers, U.S. Marines, sXedgers, Celtics/Red Sox/Bruins/Patriots fans, Guinness-hat-wearing nice guys, pretty college girls, old hippie couples, and a crew who looked suspiciously like the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang from American History X.
Overheard in the bathroom #1: "Use the sink, piss on the British guy" -- personal sectarian politics infiltrates strategy for negotiating the restroom line.
Overheard in the bathroom #2: "I came from Dublin to see this" -- I'm pretty sure he came from no farther than Boca Raton.
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