November 12, 2012
There's a point in every Dropkick Murphys show these days where their whirlwind of barking, bottle-breaking, Irish punk testosterone actually allows the girls to get in on the action. And boy, do they ever. One by one, a conga line of bouncy, hysterical twentysomethings emerged from the depths of a smelly, salty, male-infested pit--flooding the stage. They nearly overpowered the short, stout frame of vocalist/bassist Ken Casey as the opening bag pipes of "Kiss Me, I'm Shitfaced" rang out across the Observatory. All of the sudden it was like Irish Mardi Gras up there. A few minutes before the end of their sold-out Santa Ana appearance, you could've easily mistaken the hull of this broiling OC venue for a Boston dive bar on St. Patrick's Day. Even the glowing lights behind the bars in the main room were flashing emerald green.
The band rolled through OC last night on the whiskey-soaked U.S. leg of their fall tour to drum up some buzz for their forthcoming album, Signed and Sealed in Blood, slated for January of next year. They were greeted by a capacity crowd spattered with kilts, Bruins jersys (not UCLA, fool!) Celtic cross tattoos and limerick-chanting revelers.
Even with a set list that ran the gamut of eight albums over nearly two decades, the one thing that united us all (aside from, ya know, being drunk) was the ability to clap in 4/4 time. Things started off appropriately with "The Boys Are Back," held together by fist-pumping rowdiness and lead vocalist Al Barr's gravel-thick roar. Like the song says, the band's return to OC really did feel like "a long time coming."
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"It's a pleasure to be back in your sunny fucking state," Casey said at one point in the show. "I remember coming over here 17 years ago, playing Long Beach in some shit hole dive bar. Thanks for the support."
The band reciprocated the love by transforming our little business park venue into an Irish warship for just under 90 minutes on a Monday night. An arsenal of banjo, accordion and mandolin courtesy of Jeff DaRosa, Tim Brennan and James Lynch ignited the fiery spirit of 2007's The Meanest of Times with "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya" and "The State of Massachusetts. They dug out old chestnuts like 1996's "Do or Die" and the break-neck beat of "Barroom Hero" to the delight of balding fans who've been with them since the beginning. They even dosed us with a couple new tracks that seemed to blend in with what has become a die-cast sound of hellfire limericks, tirades against social inequities and, yes, binge drinking.
In that respect, their new Christmas song about family dysfunction called "The Season's Upon Us" fit right in. With tree lights strewn over their amps, gold, green and red light swirled around the six-piece as a rolling sea of bodies swayed in agreement to lines like "Some families are messed up while others are fine. If you think yours is crazy, then you should see mine!"
And of course, the band couldn't sail away without delivering the thunderous, opening lines of "Shipping Up to Boston" (of The Departed fame). Pounding snare slaps from drummer Matt Kelly incited batches of tumbling crowd surfers. With only a few minutes left of the Veterans Day holiday, the band also made sure to pay respects to the soldiers among us (including the bands bag piper, Scruffy Wallace) with the Blackout anthem "Worker's Song" that brought home the spirit of bloody, battered, determination that is tied to every note this band has ever played. As they continue to move forward with new material, Dropkick Murphys proved once again that they're able to strike a balance between a band that can satisfy your lust for punk nostalgia while still staying relevant, and (in the case of last night) make a cover of Australian band AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds" sound Irish as ever.
Critical Bias: The Gang's All Here is one of the first punk albums I bought just off of hearing a Punk-o-Rama compilation.
The Crowd: Irish people mashed together in the pit surrounded by a potpourri of sweat, pot smoke, farts and liberation.
Overheard: Various drunk versions of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"
Random Notebook Dump: For what it's worth, I thought the opening act Teenage Bottlerocket did a pretty damn good job warming up the crowd, people actually seemed to give a shit by the time they were done.