Dropkick Murphys like the fact that their Celtic-tinged sound draws a cross-section
The conventional way for a father and son to bond is to go to a baseball game. The less orthodox way is for the two to attend a show by Celtic-tinged punk band the Dropkick Murphys - maybe with dad hanging back at the bar, fondly recalling the golden age of the Pogues, while junior slams in the mosh pit.
"There are a lot of fathers and sons at our shows. We love to see it," Murphys bassist and vocalist Ken Casey said. "One of the special things is that cross-section: you get everything from guys in their 50s to kids as young as 12 or 13. Everything from punk rockers to straight-ahead Irish music fans to the average Joe who just identifies with the lyrics."
That average-Joe element is everywhere in the work of a band that has championed the working man since they came together in 1996. According to Casey, the blue-collar background of the Boston-based Murphys helped fuel those sensibilities. "My father died when I was a young kid. I was raised by my grandfather, who had been a longtime union organizer since he was a kid," Casey said. "When you're raised in one of those families, when you finally turn 18, you don't vote for who you want to, you're told who you're going to vote for. Through the course of growing up, it became something I adamantly agreed with. We're writing songs that general hard-working people can relate to. I guess that's different because a lot of what people are being force-fed is just pop garbage that has no meaning to it."
The populism of the group's albums makes them well-suited to put music to the unpublished songs of another larger-than-life advocate of the little guy: Woody Guthrie. The folk legend's 1942 lyrics for Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight landed in the group's hands courtesy of Guthrie's daughter, Nora. Her son is a big Murphys fan. Other unpublished Guthrie material has been heard on the Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco.
"One of the biggest thrills being in this band was the day we went down to the Guthrie archives in New York City and actually sifted through the pieces of paper he wrote those songs on. They're dated and they would say things like 'I wrote this in Back Bay station in Boston, Mass., 1940.' We're just sitting there holding the thing going 'This is incredible.' It was just such an honour," Casey said.
The hard-edged punk arrangement of Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight is decidedly un-Woody, but Nora Guthrie laid down no conditions, Casey said. "Hopefully, (Woody) didn't roll over in his grave," he said. The song, which gives a title to their new CD, Blackout, is only one of 12 compositions the Murphys were given permission to adapt. Others will be closer to Guthrie's own musical language, Casey said. The as-yet-unreleased Shipping Off to Boston got the Irish-jig treatment, but the group has not yet decided where or in what format the rest of the songs will appear.
Blackout's most moving song, the weary and nostalgic World Full of Hate, and the uncompromising morality of Walk Away, which turns a harsh light on a man walking out on his family, suggest that the Murphys don't connect very strongly with the sex, drugs and-rock 'n' roll world view espoused by many of their contemporaries. The point is made most strikingly in new anthem Kiss Me I'm #!@*faced, which wittily lampoons the more Spinal Tap-ish side of the touring musician's life.
"We're a punk-rock band, and punk-rock bands in general lack a lot of the attitude and arrogance that a lot of other musicians have," Casey said. "We play festivals in Europe with a wide variety of big-name rock bands, and just watching their behaviour backstage is comical. You're saying to yourself 'Is this for real?' So Kiss Me I'm #!@*faced was inspired by the antics of these morons that are so caught up in their own ego that they think the world revolves around them and their hit for the month."
Scruffy Wallace, who recently replaced Spicy McHaggis as the group's bagpipe player, is new to the touring life. Wallace, a Calgary native, read about McHaggis's departure in a general newsletter E-mailed to fans of the group and took the long shot of firing back a message offering his services. Casey called Wallace to an audition and he ended up with the job.
"Although he's from worlds away in Calgary, he's cut from the same mold," Casey said. "It's interesting to have a guy from Canada in the the band. There's a lot of razzing, there's a lot of back-and-forth about hockey. We just came from his home town. Now we have another place we can somewhat call home."
The Dropkick Murphys at the Spectrum, 318 Ste. Catherine St. W., tomorrow night at 8. Tickets: $20. Call (514) 790-1245 or go to www.admission.com, but enter the incorrectly-spelled "Dropkick Murphy's" in your search request.