Dropkick Murphys Climb Up the Topsails
The big news in Southern California last week was the capture in Santa Monica of James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston Irish mob boss who became the FBI's most-wanted man after the killing of Osama bin Laden—no joke. News stories on the subject inevitably mentioned that Bulger was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film The Departed, which led to an inevitable montage of a sleazy Jack Nicholson (playing the Bulger role) instructing a ratfink Matt Damon and weary Leonardo DiCaprio, which led to . . . that song.
You know it: an ominous bass line, a wary banjo jangle, followed by a rush of keyboard accordion trills, angry drums and power chords, all coalescing into a paranoid crescendo until the group howls seeming nonsense: "I'm a sailor's peg/And I lost my leg!" Woody Guthrie wrote "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" decades ago, but it was the Dropkick Murphys—always relatively successful—who put their signature Celt-punk snarl to it on 2005's The Warrior's Code. And it was Martin Scorsese who used it as the leitmotif in The Departed; it was the perfect slab of paranoid machismo for a movie filled with it. Overnight, the Boston-based group's music was introduced to a new audience that ultimately broadened the band's horizons.
Let's not downplay what they had accomplished up to that point, but things change and sounds evolve, a point Dropick Murphys guitarist Tim Brennan acknowledges, tracking the band's arc through seven studio albums to their latest release, Going Out In Style. "When the word maturity gets thrown around, there are times when that assessment is definitely applicable," says Brennan. "When a band like us that has a bunch of different sounds—I think at this point on this last record, we have done a really good job of putting all those sounds together and making a complete album."
While the band are on the road in support of their latest release, much has happened back at home. Before Bulger's arrest became the talk of Beantown, the biggest news was the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after a nearly four-decade drought. Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr's famous diving goal, which completed a four-game sweep over the St. Louis Blues back in 1970, was the last time the city drank from Lord Stanley's beer stein—and it just so happened that Orr made a cameo in the music video for the first single off the new album, appropriately titled "Going Out in Style."
Dropkick Murphys and Boston sports go hand in hand, of course. Prior to the Red Sox's run to their first World Series victory in 89 years back in 2004, the band released an EP titled Tessie, named after the official Red Sox anthem, which they also covered on the effort. Their take was played during home victories that winning season and has been in Fenway Park's rotation ever since. And while Brennan bleeds most for the Celtics' green and white among the area's teams, he was delighted nonetheless about the Bruins winning the Cup.
"That was something that all of us were very excited about," he says. "Living in Boston, you couldn't help being excited about it. Whether you are a hockey fan or not. I think everybody watched those last games, and everybody was cheering for the team. . . . The victory is something special for guys like Ken [Casey, the band's lone original member] who have followed the Bruins for their entire lives, and this is the first Stanley Cup they have gotten to see."
Brennan and company look forward to their two stops here in Southern California—one date at the Fox Theater Pomona, another at this year's Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch. When asked if Dropkick Murphys had any horror stories when coming through Orange County, Brennan replied with a chuckle, "Fortunately, no horror stories. We always have a great time, and we have a bunch of friends out there. It's always good to get out there and play. "
Wonder if they sing the same tune when the Red Sox play the Angels. . . .
This article appeared in print as "Climbing Up the Topsails: Dropkick Murphys reflect on their latest release and the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup victory."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.