Reflecting on 20 Years with the Dropkick Murphys
at Agganis Arena
By Maia Kennedy
Anniversaries mean a lot to all of us. They are a chance to reflect on the time gone by, enjoy the time we’re in, and to look forward to more good times to come. This anniversary for the Dropkick Murphys is a big one: not many bands last 20 years or are as successful as they’ve been. This anniversary is also a big one for all their fans, from those who have been there since the beginning to those who have just discovered them. It’s an anniversary to reflect on the many firsts: when and where you first saw them play, the first time you got on stage with the band, or the first time you got to meet members of the band (who are always friendly and usually hang out after shows to meet and talk to people).
The Dropkick Murphys have been touring the U.S. for several months now to celebrate this anniversary and it is all coming to a glorious crescendo with the final hometown showdowns in Boston. The first three are traditional every year around St. Patrick’s Day weekend at the House of Blues. The big 20th Anniversary party is being held at the Agganis Arena. This show is a flashback of the Boston bands. The three bands starting tonight have been in the hearts of many for years, even when they haven’t been playing.
The Fenian Sons, coincidentally also celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, kick-off the show. The introduce us to a selection of traditional Irish folk songs as well as some originals. These guys sound just like the bands I imagine you’d encounter hanging out in the pubs in Ireland. They have a very authentic Irish folk sound and interact with the audience, making everyone feel at home. It’s a touching moment when they dedicate the song Old Brigade to honor Boston firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy who were tragically lost in a fire a couple of years ago.
The Bruisers are on next with Al Barr who is also the lead singer for the Dropkick Murphys and is pulling double-duty for the night! Al was one of the original members of The Bruisers when they first go together in 1988. They stuck around for about 10 years but have only played the occasional and rare reunion concert in recent years. This show was as close to an original lineup as you could get. It is a surprise appearance for some and everyone welcomes them to the stage with loud shouts and cat-calls. These guys play some hard-driving punk rock with distinguishable rockabilly overtones. The setlist is full of the singles. Al introduced the fan favorite “Intimidation” by saying, “People thought that being in the ‘skin-scene’ was about being racist. It’s not about being racist, it never was and The Bruisers never will be. Fuck you if you’re racist.”
Slapshot comes on next and the lead singer stares us all down as he comes on carrying the handle of a hockey stick, looking like he’s going to slap someone with it! Instead the band hits us with non-stop hardcore. The 4 of them cover the stage pacing and pouncing from one end to the other, throwing out the tunes that hit us with full force. Their energy is contagious and if it weren’t for the big guys guarding the stage, it would be overrun. These guys have been around for decades and are long-time residents of the Boston music scene. Their hardcore songs echo the sounds of punk in the early-eighties, one that never dies. Towards the end of the set, the lead singer, Jack “Choke” Kelly notices one guy in the audience singing every word to every song and hands the hockey stick to him, as if passing the baton. Who knows, maybe next show we’ll have a duet!!
The arena was huge and filled to the brim, but it felt like a party of friends. These guys from all the bands have known each other, played with each other, and supported each other for years. Now they are all back on stage together again, in front of thousands of people, many of whom have been following these bands for years.
The Dropkick Murphys set starts with a video montage, showing memories over the years, some funny and others moving. They start playing right after this with their rocking version of the traditional anti-war song from the late 1800’s called, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya” and follow it with “Out of Our Heads” that always gets the audience going. Stephanie Dougherty, singer with The Marlars, comes on next to sing Dirty Glass with the Murphys. This is actually a reprise of 2007 when the Dropkick Murphys played the Agganis for the first time and The Marlars opened for them. Stephanie is fun; she looks like a 1950s pin-up girl who’s jumped right off the page. She has a strong voice and twirls across the stage playing with Ken and Al through the song. The show continues with a ton of songs—the Murphys don’t hold anything back. They play all the favorites: “The Boys are Back,” “The State of Massachusetts,” and more, as well as several covers, including “Just What I Needed” by the Cars that they’re doing for the first time on this tour.
When they come back on for the encore, they come back big, backed by the Boston University Marching Band. Dressed head to toe in their BU red and white uniforms, they cover the stage physically as well as with their sound. The play Shipping Up to Boston with the Murphys like it was their own school fight song.
The Dropkick Murphys are well-loved by people in all walks of life, young and old. They are strong members of their community; they lend a voice to those issues that mean a lot to them, and do everything to help when they can. Their charitable foundation, the Claddagh Fund, whose mission is to raise money to give to underfunded charities in the community, was visible at every show collecting money through tshirt sales, VIP tickets, and band events.
Even after a late night doing back-to-back shows, one at the Agganis and one right after at the House of Blues, these guys still came out the next day. On a bitter cold Sunday afternoon, they were riding the streets of Southie on a vintage 1969 Buick convertible in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and saying hi to everyone.