17 Aug 2002: Belmont Park Long Island, New York
et’s go Mur-phys, Lets Go Mur-phys,” roared the rambunctious crowd at the 2002 Pepsi Irish Fest in New York!
It so happens that this festival was less interesting than a Sammy Hagar/David Lee Roth tour. Even quarter-pound hot dogs, drunken stupors, and good-looking women couldn’t save this pitiful event—acting as a haven for green shirts and overpriced beer. Or maybe it’s because I have not a shred of Irish in my blood and the temperature was about 90 degrees. Either way, by the time 7:00 PM rolled around—with overcast skies and drizzles to comfort the sweaty—200 or so punksters gathered for a night with the Dropkick Murphys, Boston’s answer to The Ramones.
And much like The Ramones—aside from rollicking, east-coast punk—the Murphys boast a raucous following, complete with flag waving, fists flying, blood shedding and at least at this show, Irish gigs. Much of these antics took place even before the show began. Black 47 had finished playing a semi-impressive set, and it wasn’t long after that the yelps started to resonate. “Let’s go Mur-phys,” shouted old and young alike. It was interesting to see 30-35 year-old men running around bare-chested, with tattoos exposed to the world. Some even carried long, quirky facial hair and suspenders. Then, of course, there were younger fans—happily fidgety in $15 Murphy shirts, gearing up for a night of heavy-duty moshing on the blacktop. In this case, adolescent spirit reigned supreme because minutes before the concert, youths began flailing and pacing in a circle. Talk about enthusiasm.
Though finally, after extra minutes of check-check-one-two’s and adjusting chords, the show kicked off with a bang at 7:30PM. No, there weren’t any guns (we think). But the mosh fest was in full swing as vocalist Mike McColgan crept to the stage to accompany his already-whaling mates.
Amongst such feverous cuts as “Upstarts and Broken Hearts”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, and “Sing Loud, Sing Proud” (the title of their latest album), a killer version of “Barroom Hero” was a definite highlight. Straight off the popular Do or Die record, its vicious, anthem-like sound ignited a swirl of bodies into a fist-pumping frenzy. You could even hear the lyrics being sung back to the band.
Overall, the Murphys are lucky enough to have a great tech crew and even greater musicians. Blazing through additional tunes such as “Perfect Stranger” and “Curse of a Fallen Soul”, it’s understandable that after only seven and a half years of playing, they’ve managed to gather a loyal following. The guitars were crisp, the vocals could be heard, the words were meaningful, and each song put some kind of bounce in your body.
Other entertaining moments—non-music related—consisted of an overwrought sermon by bassist Ken Casey. Halfway through a song that escapes my memory (though it was at the beginning of the set), Casey put a halt to the music and screamed,” If I see anyone out there fighting with kids or old people, I’m gonna come out there and kick your ass myself!” To this the crowd gave a powerful hooray. Though Casey might have been targeting this slovenly, drunken behemoth—whose blood alcohol level was surely around a million. The swiller pushed everyone from innocent bystanders to kids, yet you could push HIM over with a feather. Casey’s sermon continued: “A lot of people think we have a rowdy crowd, but I don’t think so. I think we have a good bunch of people.” Further warnings came from McColgan, who reminded everyone that stage diving was forbidden. That, apparently, fell on deaf ears, since many fans managed to take and jump off of the stage. Tour manager Johnny Rio stood in the corner looking confused, concerned, yet slightly entertained by the goings-on.
In the end, after an apparent scuffle between a bouncer and crowd member (are you surprised by now?) watching this was kind of like watching a cult—a really cool cult. Some go to concerts where the music stinks, but surrounding theatrics make it worthwhile. For others it’s the opposite, where the music rocks but the band itself is boring. The Dropkick Murphys managed to deliver on all accounts. Everything and everyone from Irish flag wavers and green-haired screamers, to moshers and sporadic gigs became part of the show. That alone was worth the trip.