‘Dropkick Murphys’. Very few band names have ever looked so good written down, or spoken out loud. That was a pretty good start. We are born and our parents give us a name and we often are that name, somehow. Likewise with bands. The best ones sound like the music itself. The actual name ‘Guns’n’Roses’ – no matter what may have happened since – sounds like the music on Appetite For Destruction. Rose Tattoo SOUND LIKE a band called ‘Rose Tattoo’. One of the best pairings of bands I’ve ever seen was indeed Rose Tattoo and Dropkick Murphys. The combination somehow showcased DKM at their best; a raucous soulful rock band with some bagpipes in the mix. A simple and spirited equation. Mean and clean and going toe-to-toe with Rose Tattoo. It looked and sounded better than other combinations I’ve seen them with play with. Hardcore bands, or skinhead bands, playing in support of Dropkick Murphys always seems too flatulent & ‘underground’ for my liking. Rose Tattoo, for fuck’s sake?! THAT’S more like it, and the two bands’ respect was clearly mutual.
I bought a black t-shirt with a skull and hockey logo (what else??) and left the venue uplifted by the utter lack of bullshit.
And I’ve bought a few more t-shirts since. We all have. Again, that name just looks so damn mean and right, written down above a skull. Throw in a shamrock or two and you’re part of a mythology. A hundred other bands have copied it, but who do you reckon you’ll remember?
Doesn’t matter how many by-numbers punk dandyisms you might bear witness to in a DKM audience, the music and delivery, at its best, has always been more akin to a Springsteen-and-denim approach than anything else. And thus Springsteen’s appearance on the new album’s sentimental singalong Peg O’My Heart seems pretty earthy and right, and not novelty at all. And despite a merchandise catalogue that brings to mind Iron Maiden in its lurid flair and Madonna in its range of products (kids’ pencil cases), the paradox is that the Murphys maintain the credibility of Springsteen himself. They are mentioned in the same breath as fart-joke suburban mega ‘punk’ acts like NOFX (Fat Mike lends his tired whine to the new album) and yet they invite Dubliners and Pogues into their studios. The Church of Dropkick Murphys is a very broad church indeed.
But this Church has its tenets. From the mock-brawling skinheads who cheerfully incorporate the hockey skull into their own narrow regalia, right through to the lonely suburban kid with a cheap Dropkick Murphys flag pinned up in his bedroom, the audience know that the Murphys are on our side. The Murphys are on YOUR side! Solidarity must count for something, and there is power in the union.
And pirates are fun. The best song on Going Out In Style has to be the opening track, Hang ‘Em High. We don’t know who exactly the enemy is but we know we’re going to fight ‘em to the death, with our presumably vintage weapons, and that we’re all going to swing into action Captain Blood-style and the whole thing is going to be fucking mad fun. And only Dropkick Murphys can deliver that sort of fun. Jesus, they’ve out-pirated Flogging Molly ten times over by now. This song is like Master And Commander writ large in rock font. It’s got as much clout as Shipping Up To Boston and could only have been performed by the Murphys, (and I can’t even say for sure that the nature of the fighting is nautical, but there is a shark reference, so that’ll do).
Another tenet of the Church, of course is; Though Shalt Honour All Things Irish. Well, not all things Irish, but some things. Well, a couple of things. Irish equals tough. We’re in a black & white time capsule somewhere between James Cagney and On The Waterfront. That suburban kid in his bedroom, with his flags of punk piracy on the walls, he might be a Germanic Midwesterner, but if he squeezes his eyes tight, he can recall his great-great grandfather O’Flynn and proudly realize his imperative for clannish, rebellious, rough diamond behaviour. If he is, on the other hand, a lad in, say, the midwest of Germany, he can always get drunk on Guinness while listening to the new record, or settle for a show with some clone paddypunk band from Bavaria.
And so, everyone belongs, and everyone is sorta Irish. But there’s more to the Church than this, and also less than this, because the Murphys pepper their lyrics with in-jokes and hometown references – the title track is a case in point – in such a way as nobody can accuse them of over-tailoring their act for maximum audience haulage. This too is something of a paradox. In this sense, you can say they have stayed true to their roots, a cliché that has rarely meant much at all.
I saw a blaze of Dropkick Murphys t-shirts for sale at a market stall the other night, skeletons grinning away alongside Motley Crue and Iron Maiden, stacked up nicely against a leering AC/DC Angus-devil. Begorrah! Never mind all the blarney – and certainly don’t mind the bollocks, and the ever-present little punk mafias with Cock Sparrer patches pinned alongside Barroom Hero – we in Australia understand perfectly well that highland bagpipes belong in rock’n’roll. Those of us who saw the Murphys sing ‘Long Way To The Top’ as an encore, on the same bill as Rose Tattoo, certainly do hold this truth to be self-evident.
Let’s Go Murphys.
Sydney, Australia, April 2011