Let’s Go Murphy’s! – Dropkick Murphys take over Kunstrasen (11.08.2023)

This evening’s band at Bonn Kunstrasen came fresh on the heels of a headline spot at Wacken, one of Europe’s loudest and proudest heavy metal festivals. Given the problems with noise at shows these days I had to read that last sentence twice to believe it. In the end, the songs were strong enough to survive the drop in volume, and aside from a discontented remark mid-show, The Dropkick Murphys and their loyal audience seemed none the worse for the decibel drop. Along with Dublin support band The Scratch they managed to deliver a powerful set on the night.

The audience numbers around 4,300 when the Dropkick Murphy’s arrive onstage at 8:15 pm, but there is a good-sized audience already in time for support band The Scratch. Possibly, like me, the early arrivals had seen the Dublin quartet on YouTube at the recent Eurosonic Festival. Certainly there is no criticizing these lads for a lack of effort, The Scratch give at least 110% + a kilo or two of sweat in their set. Cajon player and main vocalist Daniel Lang, in particular, worked hard to get the audience up and dancing, although the band were maybe a bit too similar to the main act tonight. With a lively set coming later, the Murphy fans were, for the most part, keeping their powder dry for the main event, but encouragingly enough there were small groups of frantic dancers springing up around the mud patches front of stage.

The Scratch – Dressed for Action!

As you might expect, lots of shouting and songs about drinking and Ireland. With that start in mind and the fact that the band grew out of a heavy metal outfit in Dublin and you won’t be surprised to hear that those acoustic guitars onstage are being seriously hammered and sound less like gentle Taylor’s and more like roaring Stratocasters in the hands of Jordan O’Leary and Conor Dockery. You could love or hate them on the night (mostly it was the former) but you could not ignore The Scratch when they were in full flow. A force of Irish nature for sure.

Then it was time for a force of American Irish nature…

Ken Casey – On his frequent way from one stage side to the other

It all started off so innocently too. The sweet voice of Sinead O’Connor filled the speakers accompanying The Chieftains on the classic ‘Foggy Dew’. A musical reminder, if one were needed, of the talent so recently and tragically lost. It would be another hour and a half before peace and musical tranquility returned (in the form of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’) In between were 90 minutes of onstage mayhem of the sort only a combination of football crowd, local pub and political rally could produce – “Go Murphy’s!” was the slogan shouted out randomly over the evening from a milling throng of band devotees who, even by shows close at 10 pm, were still energetically and merrily forming spontaneous blocks of dancers.

There’s no avoiding comparisons in style to The Pogues of course; would that Shane MacGowan was still able to prowl the stage as energetically as Murphy’s front-man Ken Casey does. The Murphy’s too have some fine tunes, although they seem a little too ‘made-to-measure’ at times to my ears. Where MacGowan’s lyrics came out like authentic Irish folksongs given a punk treatment, in comparison, ‘The Boys Are Back’ is more a thematic steal from Thin Lizzy – All boys together for a good time, ‘Out of Our Heads’ – Irish beer-drinkers/Hellraisers, ‘Rose Tattoo’ – Tattoos are a part of the collectiveness of being a ‘Murphy’. It’s all great to listen and jig about too though and we’re here to have a good time after all.

There is though an added layer to tonight’s good time that is both social and musical in its context. Collaborations between The Dropkick Murphys Folk Legend Woody Guthrie via his musical catalogue go back decades, from the band’s cover of “Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight” on their 2003 album “Blackout,” to using Guthrie’s writing in their hit “I’m Shipping Up To Boston”. Circumstances have meant that the last couple of years were available to do some serious research with the blessing of Guthrie’s daughter Nora, and the result of much sifting of texts and poems from Guthrie is an album inspired by the famous declaration stuck to Guthrie’s battered acoustic – THIS GUITAR KILLS FASCISTS. Where better to present the fruits of all this research then than ‘up the road’ from Nora Guthrie’s home in Bonn-Beuel?

I was in fact a bit concerned that the band might actually be coming to Bonn to deliver a purely acoustic set of Guthrie-inspired anti-Fascist songs. Not least because, hey, they are not going to be able to raise Hell (and particularly decibels) at Kunstrasen the way they clearly could, and did, at Wacken last week. That was emphasized during a moment mid-concert when singer Ken Casey, in answer to calls to turn up the volume, ruefully remarked that “This is the sh*t they don’t tell you about until you arrive here!” He promised to make it up to the fans next time, although how was not alluded to. Not that this was a quiet concert by any means and the introduction of several Guthrie-based numbers was never in danger of turning this into a ‘Folk Club by the Rhine’ afternoon. You would in fact have been hard-pressed to tell which songs were Guthrie based judging by the tempo and volume.

There was no doubt about the heritage of ‘Digging a Hole’ though. The lyrics said it all:

Mr. Hitler, Mr. Hitler
Tell me what are you going to do
Declared war on Uncle Sammy
Bit off more than you can chew

The song is Guthrie at his political and lyrical best. The original Punk Rocker maybe? Casey makes a point though that if some of the names have changed the politics have not since he was writing. We still need to “Speak up and tell the Nazis and the Fascists out there where to go!”

There is then, amongst all the dancing and beer-glass waving, a lot to chew over at tonight’s Dropkick Murphy gig. Or you could just dance and have a good time… Around two dozen songs/shots of adrenalin. Casey is running from one side of the stage to the other as fervently at 10 pm as he was at 8:15 pm. The small groups of sporadic dancing are still breaking out at the back of the audience as I watch the sun gradually go down and the lights flashing on whirling musicians take over lighting the proceedings. Bill Baum was promoting signature Duesenberg guitars from the Murphy’s Jeff DaRosa earlier in the day. Shining, honeycombed mahogany they were. I suspect Woody Guthrie would have thought came off of a spaceship. The guitars these days don’t say they kill fascists. But if the message is born differently in 2023 it is still born just as fervently by The Dropkick Murphy’s. An excellent mix of Murphy classics and Guthrie spirit that made for an evening to stick in the mind and give cause for thought. ‘Rose Tattoo’ and ‘Shipping up to Boston’ kept the momentum going right to the show’s end, and even if the sentiments of ‘Next Time’ with its We’ll Meet Again refrain put us back on the rather predictable blueprint for a good-time song track there was an immensely enjoyable musical rocky road to tread on the way to 10 pm.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.