Beantown's Dropkick Murphys enforce The Warrior's Code off-ice and on Vans Warped
The Dropkick Murphys are a blue-collar Celtic punk band from Boston who happen to be massive hockey fans, so naturally when I got the chance to talk to the group's Ken Casey from somewhere within the mayhem that is the Vans Warped tour, the first thing we get into is the monumentally important fact that we finally have a new NHL season to look forward to.
"I'm a season ticket holder for the Bruins, so yeah, of course it's big. I think the rule changes that might come about as a result of the strike may have made it all worth it, if it does actually make it more exciting."
After the curse-ending World Series win by their baseball team last year, Casey suggests with a laugh that, for Bostonians, it was the best possible time for the strike. "With the Red Sox winning the World Series last year, I think everyone here was too busy celebrating to even miss it. If it ever had to happen, that was the year for it to happen."
But for us up here in Montreal, now Expos-less and forced to pacify ourselves with soccer and nail-biting synchronized diving finals, it seems that as rabid for hockey as they may claim to be, the Dropkick boys can't possibly feel for their Bruins as we do pour les Habs. Then Casey tells me a story that makes it clear that they are ready and willing to bleed brown and gold at the drop of a puck.
"We were up there one year for Bruins/Canadiens in the first round, when Kyle McLaren took out [Richard] Zednik. Of course we all had Bruins jerseys on, and after the game about five
or six of us were walking to the hotel, and by the time we got back, there were probably 40 or 50 angry Canadiens fans, pretty much an angry mob, following us. So we got on to the front steps of our hotel, because we figured we'd be a little more legitimate there, you know." As only people who really like to scrap can, he adds the rest almost as an afterthought. "Then we got into a little scuffle, so to speak. We're from Boston, that's what we do. You know, it wouldn't be a Bruins/Canadiens game if there wasn't some kind of violence."
There's one line the Murphys won't cross
The Vans Warped tour, rolling through Montreal's Hippodrome on July 29, is now in its 11th year and has survived long past fests like Lollapalooza, and not just because its bands don't suck. While the headliners are frequently too mainstream for anyone's tastes (does anyone want to hear Offspring any more?), it has maintained a mandate that supports lesser-known bands and, incredibly, reasonable ticket prices. While by no means the granddaddies of the tour (again, Offspring), the Dropkicks do enjoy a certain amount of longevity (they formed in 1995), so it seems reasonable to ask if any of the younger bands on the tour have impressed him.
"Not really," says Casey. "This year there's a lot of bands that I just don't understand what's going on. There's a lot of this stuff where they scream and then they sing and they scream and then they sing, and I wish they'd make up their fuckin' minds."
The Dropkicks were started by a group of friends who made music that reflected their Irish roots and blue-collar ethos, a combination that they knew would ring true in Boston, and indeed, the early fans that embraced them subscribed to a similar outlook.
"It was a punk-skinhead thing at the beginning, but we always envisioned it being something bigger than that because we thought that the combination of what we were singing about and the Celtic influence could reach a lot of people. So we got a lot of blue-collar guys who liked the message but maybe never were into punk rock, some people who were into Irish music and not into punk rock and kind of came along for the ride."
Like everything about the band, they are not guys to simply talk the talk. When the 2001 Warped Tour hit Pittsburgh, the Murphys refused to cross the picket line of local striking stagehands, eventually compromising after a day of standing on the line (after being asked by the union) by wearing shirts in support of the cause, speaking to the concertgoers about the labour movement and returning later to play an acoustic set for the workers.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are... a pain in the ass
Listening to their songs, these two seemingly disparate forms of music fit together perfectly and indeed seem to be on some musical continuum, which does not mean that Casey, one of the group's chief songwriters, has an easy time writing for a band that includes everything from mandolins to bagpipes.
"A good portion of our songs are lyrics and a vocal melody first and then everything else is kind of overlapped afterwards, but that's not every song," he explains. "Sometimes we might have a pipe riff and work off that. But the pipes are definitely the most challenging instruments to fit into normal music, their tuning is actually on a completely different scale from us, it can be a bit of a pain."
The Dropkicks have just released their latest album, The Warrior's Code, one that many critics and fans alike are calling their best in years. Seeing as how the band's sprawling membership now contains founding members like Casey as well as some newer members, it would seem that the age difference might affect their feelings about the gruelling lifestyle of a touring musician.
"It's a split kind of thing in the band, the majority are guys in their early 20s and a couple of guys who have kids. We still want to tour, we still want to go play our music, we just try to not let the band run our lives."
And, given the sum of all these parts - the hockey, the fighting, the blue-collar ethic, the Irish and punk roots - one question seems to be clearly hanging in the rafters: Can the old guys still handle their booze?
"No, the young guys have taken over the reins," says Casey. "I reluctantly retire the reins, they can have them. I can't do it any more and get up with kids, the hangover just keeps getting worse."
While they may be passing the pitcher onto the next generation of Dropkicks, it's clear that the rest of the fighting spirit behind the group is in no danger of waning. Casey is asked not only if Canadiens fans can expect some boisterous visitors, but what chances he thinks his beloved team will have when the two teams first meet in the new season.
"Fuck, they'll have to tell me - I'll be in Japan! And how can you even say anything at this point? We could end up with half the Canadiens on our team and you could end up with half the Bruins. I don't know what to say right now, but hopefully the intensity is still there."
As far as the Dropkick Murphys are concerned, the intensity does not seem to be in danger of going anywhere, but as for the Bruins, I think it's fair to say that when they show up in Montreal, we're going to kick their fucking asses all the way back to Boston.
As part of the Vans Warped Tour at the Hippodrome, July 29