Show Review: Dropkick Murphys with Youth Brigade, The Flatliners and The Insurgence at The Fox Oakland, 11/6/2009

by Jonathan Pirro on November 7, 2009

Dropkick Murphys and the girls of Oakland, CA

Dropkick Murphys and the girls of Oakland, CA

There are 3 prominent bands that exist in the punk rock world today who seek to bend the genres and performance styles of their music by adding instruments or melodies from folk- or worldly-sources to their one-two-three-go raucous sound. One of them is Irish/American collective Flogging Molly, who sings songs of olden times and forgotten friends; another is Gogol Bordello, the Russian/gypsy revivalists infused with New York punk attitude in their songs about revolution, celebration, and wandering the world.

The third band has a simpler message: we were rudely kicked over here, but we brought enough beer and whiskey to keep us entertained, so let’s stir things up a bit! This band, of course, is none other than Massachusetts’ own Dropkick Murphys, who came to stake their claim in this year’s set of magnificent punk rock shows at Oakland’s Fox Theater.

One step into the foyer of the Fox Theater immediately told observers that this was going to be a big, long night; four different tables of merchandise were splayed across the entryway, and the doors opened at 6:30 as opposed to the often-observed rule of 7:00 doors/8:00 show. 7:15pm saw the house lights drop as Seattle natives The Insurgence were warming up to open the night. Their music is a mishmash of several similar elements; I heard bits of thrash, old-school speed metal, hardcore, and even a bit of death metal thrown in for good measure, amongst their core of solid, speedy punk rock. Despite the extremely small crowd before them (with the Murphys having an onstage time of 10:00pm, there were very few patrons when the night kicked off), the band was on fire with enthusiasm.  Vocalist Jibo ran and bounced back and forth across the stage, bellowing at the crowd to join him and the band in their energetic performance. They managed to get some of the crowd to clap along with them, and even were able to cause a small (about 5 or 6 people’s worth) circle pit to form in the empty space on the dancefloor.

Not long after The Insurgence finished their set, albeit to lukewarm applause and cheers from the miniscule crowd, the stage was cleared to make way for act #2: The Flatliners, hailing all the way from Ontario, Canada. They put on what I felt was a much stronger, much more tightly-connected performance. Like The Insurgence before them, The Flatliners blended numerous elements into their core punk sound; it was easy to see bits of emocore and indie rock slipping in amongst the frenzied yells and buzzsaw guitars. Singer Chris Cresswell took a break at one point and told an amusing anecdote about how the band was almost arrested earlier that day, due to a set of speeding tickets and a nosy officer who picked up instantly on the (for lack of a better word) “herbal” smell emanating from their van. He also gave a few mentions of Fat Wreck Chords, the San Francisco-based punk label who released their latest two albums; Fat Mike, singer of NOFX and founder of Fat Wreck, could be seen hovering near the backstage area, sporting an off-green mess of hair for the occasion.

Anticipation had been building by the time The Flatliners finished their set, and some of it began to spill over — in the form of a few rather large circle pits — as Youth Brigade took the stage. The Southern Californian punk rockers, despite being a generation ahead of their cohorts and many of the fans in the crowd, were just as tight in their set as they had been back in March for NOFX’s 25th anniversary show. While most of the set had the band immediately jumping to new songs as soon as they’d finished the current one, vocalist Shawn Stern took a few opportunities to thank the various bands they were playing with and to express his appreciation for the removal of George W. Bush and the inauguration of Obama. On the latter subject, he commented, “he seems to be an idealist, like me, so that’s all I can hope for”. Though slightly marred by the restless crowd’s incessant chanting of “let’s go Murphys!”, Youth Brigade played an excellent, solid show, leaving the stage to the sound of wild cheering.

The moment had come at last, and the screams of anticipation reached a fevered pitch when the house lights fell for a fourth and final time. Falling along with them was the large black backdrop behind the drumkit, revealing an ornate celtic linework in the shape of a cathedral hall, as the Dropkick Murphys rushed out onto the stage alongside the caterwauling of Scruffy Wallace’s bagpipes. When the first strains of “Cadence To Arms” blasted across the walls of the Fox Theater, the stage was violently lit as four columns of LED lights flared up onstage; predictably, the crowd in front of the stage went, for lack of a more appropriate term, completely nuts.

Singer Al Barr rushed onstage as the band finished the first song, wasting no time as they immediately began the follow-up, the classic “Do Or Die” from their debut album of the same name. It was four songs in, however, when the crowd in the Fox Theater became almost apoplectic in its activity. One immense pit began to form as banjo player Jeff DaRosa began plucking out the initial notes of “The State Of Massachusetts”; the moment that the rest of the band entered the mix, the entire floor burst into life, the seamless crowd taking on its own pulsing form and undulating up, down, back and forth as the fans pushed, pulled, danced, thrashed, and everything in between.  The message was clear: the Murphys are here, and they’re ready to blow this place apart.

The band’s set spanned across all six of their albums, with most of the selection coming from 2007’s The Meanest of Times. Barr, the singer, spent a great deal of time on a raised platform placed between the stage and the crowd (behind the barricade), high-fiving the fans who had fought their way to the bitter front as he snarled his guttural, crooning voice through 21 (!) more songs. Five songs after a rousing rendition of the Irish folk song “Finnegans Wake”, the evening was ready to draw to a close as the first slow, heroic notes of “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced” played through the theater. Bassist Ken Casey immediately ran forward, calling for “the women of Oakland” to join them; in a sudden flurry of movement, the security staff rushed over to Barr’s platform and helped what seemed to be over a hundred of the band’s female fans onto the stage, all of whom swayed back and forth — later bursting into their own brand of furious dancing — as the song closed the Murphys’ set.

Nearly as unexpected as the close of the set was the band’s encore; following a stirring cover of “Baba O’Riley”, the celtic-patterned backdrop was dropped as the sounds of Tim Brennan’s accordion signaled the beginning of “Shipping Off To Boston”, the famous theme used in Martin Scorcese’s film The Departed. The show finally finished to the tune of the much-loved classic, “Skinhead on the MBTA”, and a thunderous cover of “Alcohol”, originally by fellow Massachusetts hardcore masters Gang Green. During the course of the final two songs, the band once again invited the audience onstage, but this time they were not gender specific; indeed, nearly 100 men and women catapulted themselves onstage to dance, sing, and thrash about with their punk rock heroes.

I’ve personally wanted to see the Dropkick Murphys for several years now; I was introduced to their music through my love of Flogging Molly and similar bands that blended old folk styles with no-nonsense punk rock. While I did spend most of the evening wrought with anticipation and frustration over the length of the openers’ sets, it was nonetheless a spectacular show. My only wish was that my arm was in better (read: not-fractured) condition, so that I could have braved the pit and made my way to the front, in the hopes of joining the Murphys onstage for an amazing end to a great performance.

 

Dropkick Murphys' setlist

Dropkick Murphys' setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gordon Elgart November 7, 2009 at 10:38 am

When I think of Shipping Off to Boston, I think not of The Departed, but rather Jonathan Papelbon coming out to the mound for another save.

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