It’s amazing how easy it is to overlook life’s hints of foreshadowing. Thinking back on it, all the signs were there to suggest that the Dropkick Murphy’s Brixton Academy headline was never going to be anything short of mental. It was the last Friday of the month. Payday had come and gone for most and ‘dry January’ inhibitions had reached breaking point. Something had to snap. And apparently, at around 8PM that night, it did.
Brixton is a town of independent markets, community spirit and tangible social energy. It feels like it has a beating heart, which makes it the perfect location for a bunch of people to come together, drink and bump into each other as a Celtic punk band stomps out the tunes. Rarely does a gig play host to a night of such rampant jollity and drunkenness.
The Dropkick Murphys’ current tour comes with the release of their ninth and newest studio album ‘Eleven Short Stories of Pain and Glory’. Support acts are hardcore punk four-piece Slapshot and the UK folk outfit Skinny Lister, both of which made a mark of their own while serving as a warm-up for the main act as well.
Skinny Lister entered first, all six members strolling nonchalantly on stage and getting on with it as the half-full crowd steadily thickened. Their warm, charming and home-grown style is reminiscent of the Dropkick’s more folky material. Frontwoman Lorna’s drunken swagger brought plenty of stage presence with it, and the relatively stoic crowd nodded along to the infectious double bass grooves and bright accordion melodies.
The sound mixing and acoustics weren’t ideal, with some of the sound being lost in a barrage of echo and reverb in the early songs. Thankfully the later parts of the set brought an explosive Fleetwood-style folk rock, and livelier songs such as ‘Devil In Me’ remedied the sound and left the growing audience well warmed up for the sonic barrage that is Slapshot.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the scowling staccato vocals, furious breakneck drumming and wall-of-sound distortion may have been a tad inaccessible, but tonight the crowd erred on the side of punk over folk, and soon enough mosh pits developed as t-shirts were removed. Slapshot came on as vocalist Jack Kelly, also known as ‘Choke’ of course, menacingly stared out at the crowd before launching into their downright vicious set. There was no messing around with these guys. Often there weren’t even introductions between songs, let alone crowd interactivity. Though at one point, perhaps in response to a heckle, Kelly did take some time to insult Liverpool FC, stating “Go back to Liverpool you fucks! ‘You’ll never win again’, how’s that sound?” Oof… moving on.
Needless to say, the Dropkick Murphys didn’t need to worry about getting the now-packed crowd going. There was already much stirring and excited unrest amongst the audience before haunting pre-recorded entrance music sounded and the stage was bathed in green. The sheet dropped, and the main event began as the Murphys launched into the anthemic ‘Rebels with a Cause’. Eleven Short Stories is a tad experimental in some ways. It’s their first album not to be recorded in Boston (they went to Texas instead) and is a foray into stadium-filling rock. It’s at live gigs like this where it really comes alive.
Pretty much every member of the band was singing if they didn’t have a flute in their mouth, but Al Barr and Ken Casey took the majority of the vocal work. The Irish bellows were as distinct and effective live as they are on the album, and Tim Brennan’s huge guitar tone was the engine of the performance. Everything else was absolutely tight and there was never a sense of faltering or lack of direction. The set had a locomotive momentum, never slowing and continually moving from song to song.
Old classics presented themselves fairly early on, notably ‘State of Massachusetts’ which was the third song on the set list. But most of the attention was given to the album which triggered the tour in the first place. ‘I Had a Hat’ was particularly energetic, with a huge dynamic projection of boxing matches screened on the back of the stage.
The audience was drunk on the atmosphere (as well as a significant amount of Tuborg) and the crowd was pretty much impenetrable nearer the front. Things reached a fever pitch as the stage was – aptly – bathed in red for ‘Blood’, and Casey could barely get a word in edgeways as the crowd did most of the singing for him. Ditto ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ in which Casey took a stab at Liverpool – the second one of the night – reminding any present fans that “It’s not about football you mother fucker!” It went down a little better than Choke’s did.
By the end of the night, the lush Greek aesthetic of Brixton Academy had been utterly compromised by kilts and flat caps. Culminating in their most popular track ‘I’m Shipping Off to Boston’, the gig was a whirlwind of alcohol and good times. Surprisingly, the band even allowed dozens of (rather drunk) fans onto the stage to engage in a cheesy but endearing arms-around-shoulders rendition of ‘Until the Next Time’ as the crowd began to filter out amongst the green and white confetti. What a conclusion. Until the next time…