Erin and I saw Dropkick Murphys last night at Tsongas Arena in Lowell. Tickets were general admission, which I was leery of, especially as we didn’t leave home betimes like we might’ve. I thought finding seats might be an issue.
A ladies line and a separate gents line to accommodate pat down. Luckily the guy missed my gun, my pills, and my picture of Obama. Lots of people milling around everywhere, like the point was not to go into the arena and watch stuff on the stage. Stuff in fact was in process there. We found seats up high. Erin luckily got an aisle seat, so he was only half-cramped, big as he is. I found myself feeling too crammed with the guy next to me but luckily he felt so too and so he and his girlfriend slid over.
Onstage were three young looking fellows playing very loud and at top speed. I later learned that they were 13. I don’t know where the Murphys got them. Not to reveal my ignorance fully, but I would typify their music as speed punk. The guitarist had the backwards cap and drilled thru the chords. He and the bassist shared vocals. The bassist especially took lead on all screaming. The drummer, with his green Mohawk, was pretty good. Gosh, they mike the bass and toms in such a way, it’s like a gunshot. A couple of times he pounded the beat on the floor tom, and it made me want to jump.
They took zero break between songs, not merge into the next but stop on a dime then hit the gas. The inherent anger of their music seems learned. That’s an aspect that I question of all cathartic sorts of music. You’re onstage, after all, and you have a setlist. Performing anger is still performing. And I wonder if the anger they display isn’t invented. Because the locus and provenance of their anger, from the songs, is social and political, not personal. It’s intellectual, in the end. The anger, then, seems like the chords, something you learn.
Anyway, I’m overthinking. It was fun to watch these kids but I tired of the one speed.
The next group, after a brief set, might have been called I Want To Smash Them All. Indeed, Google tells me that this is so. Maybe you will find more similarly recorded clips of the group from last night. Many had their phones working hard to capture.
IWTSTA consisted of four guys, adults: 2 guitars, bass and drums. They were more varied than the previous group but again, the music depended on 3 chords at top speed. And a shitload of posturing. Maybe they stay up late taking notes on Youtube vids. Holding the guitar low like Jimmy Page or whatever. The fake part of rock has always bothered me. I equate it with Vegas and see no need for it within the pure energy realm that I take rock to be.
The bassist immediately got on my bad side by gesturing to get us hyped up. No, I will get excited when you actually excite me. The singer also bugged me. He was more singerly than the previous and had a certain amount of charisma but I don’t guess his message is so important to warrant the pained look as he sang. You’re just entertaining us, my friend.
The drummer was a wild man. He kept a bullet fast heavy beat with fully committed fills. He sang along frequently, tho he wasn’t miked, and his eyes rolled. The bassist had a mike but didn’t always choose to use it as he sang. Once again, I tired of the same beat thru much of their set. Also, I noted that there was little dancing or movement on the floor.
Speaking of bass, all 3 were uninspired in my book. The sort of bass work that just goes blumblumblum, even if its a speedy blumblumblum, fulfill no interest for me. It’s just a low register noise, and hardly calls feet to dance. The seats vibrate, and that’s really how you absorbed the bass.
I rather liked the other guitarist, who took a more lead approach. He started most songs. Every song stopped on a dime, and he would immediately begin the next. One time it looked like he caught the other guitarist off guard by somehow starting even faster than usual. The drummer’s high hat fell apart during one song and a roadie came out to fix it. Luckily he got it fixed before the guitarist jumped into the next song, because I did not get the feeling that he would be spared if the drummer needed the high hat.
After them was a bathroom break. A woman commandeered a stall, which inspired a lot of hooting. She yelled that she had balls, and continued replying to good-natured (I guess) taunts all the while she remained sequestered. Beer, btw, was served, Guinness even. Plenty of guys brought their cups with them.
When I came back, the screens showed a timer counting down from 20 minutes. I never saw that before. Effective, I guess. As the timer neared zero, excitement mounted. At zero, some chords crashed. It was “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Unfortunately, it was Thin Lizzy doing it. The boys lost a chance for an effective opening by blowing the clock.
I didn’t mench that the camera opened up backstage briefly, to show the Murphys with Lowell’s own Mickey Ward.
Finally the curtain drew back and Dropkick Murphys, et al., fired up. The et al. consisted of, blimey, some 6 bagpipers, 3 fiddlers, a cello and what all. Back in 1863, I think, when I was young, I saw Irish folk group De Danann tour with a cello player. Pretty damn cool, because she supplied a nice bottom to their sound which, with fiddle and bouzouki, favoured the high register. Given that folk bands don’t make a lot of dough, bringing a cello along represented some commitment.
Anyhoo, the aural assault was a wonder. Heaven knows that the whistle player must feel weird competing with the deadly guitars. Tin whistles are lovely but even fiddles can overwhelm them. The guitars even crushed the bagpipes. We sat across from the speakers. The sound might’ve been less percussive had we sat elsewhere. As it is, my ears still ring.
DKM has a dedicated following, so the energy was really good. In front of the stage was a pool of testosterone pumping fists, crowd surfing and making weak attempts to get onstage. The singer particularly gave his attention to them. The band does not seem as guy-minded as that testosterone pool would suggest.
The vocals, you know, are an acquired taste. Certes given the working class anger of some of the songs, the hoarse yelling worked well.
The pipers and fiddlers filed in and out as required. Mickey Ward was brought out briefly. Some girls, teenage and younger, came out to stepdance. Which was barely plausible, because the tempo did not conduce to what dancing humans can accomplish. Not that the dancers attempted to keep up. It was more an interjection. Folk musician Alan Stivall did a reel on one recording. It begins with a fast fiddle, then his bagpipes enter. Electric instruments enter, and it is not too jarring. As the tune proceeds to its highest instigation, an electric lead guitar enters. For a while it sounds like two radio stations simultaneously, then you comprise it all, and it’s a nervy gem. So bring on the dancing girls in their sequined stepdancing champion outfits.
The Murphys even brought out the first group. The bassist screamed with the singer, the drummer shared DKM’s drums, and the guitarist matched up with one of the guitarists. That was a nice moment to see.
At one point, the bassist bemoaned that they could no longer allow folks onstage like they did in the old days because someone might get hurt, so he told the crowd to give him space and he went in during a song. He was lost not just to me but to the camera, but a spotlight followed this mass of people in which he sang, presumably. His speech was belied later when during the encore people were invited to fill the stage. One guy stood next to the singer, with his phone in front of him, documenting the experience.
They left the stage prior to the encore. The backstage cam showed the bassist writing down song titles for the encore. “Sweet Caroline” and some other unlikely tune, which he crossed out. Then he wrote “Shipping Off to Boston”, which made the audience shout, and he waved a friendly middle finger.
Previously, the crowd had been satisfied that the band played “Dirty Water”. I saw Phish do “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman, an equally satisfying moment of acknowledgement of place.
The band came out to play an energetic “Shipping Off”. I don’t mind admitting that I shouted along. The energy level and connection soared. The song’s inescapable for them, and they will have to find ways just to get thru it, but for the audience, it’s the secret of fire.
The encore also included AC/DC’s “TNT” and “Charlie on the MTA”, 2 great choices. No kidding, tho, DKM know their marketing. I mean okay, you’re from Boston. It’s canny, yup, but I also like that aspect.
Erin and I left the arena in a daze. What? What?