The familiar stadium chant began early: "Let's go Murphys," followed by the five hand claps.
A kilted bagpiper strode onstage ahead of the rest, playing the somber opening notes of the new "Your Spirit's Alive." But when it kicked into punk gear, that first note was like the first drop of blood hitting shark-infested waters. And the pit frenzy was on.
From there the show was the definition of relentless, a rapid-fire series of kidney punches that didn't stop for the first half-hour as one quick song bled into the next. It's what the aptly named Dropkick Murphys do.
Wednesday's show was the first of three nights at the Sunset Strip House of Blues for the veteran Boston septet. Mixing Celtic sounds and stories with boot-to-throat punk, many of the night's 20-plus songs featured the kind of huge, singsong choruses equally at home in whiskey-drenched pubs and hooligan-filled soccer stadiums. And while the band's sloganeering can stumble into cliche -- "The quitter never wins," "United we stand, divided we fall," etc. -- the songs are delivered with an undeniable conviction.
Often incorporating accordion, mandolin and tin whistle along with Scruffy Wallace's bagpipes, the set list featured most of the band's June release "The Warrior's Code" (Hellcat). It's a strong, musical record that -- like their live show -- mixes myriad styles and influences into a unique and potent brew. Taking a break from the bruising punk, "The Burden" played like '70s radio rock. Then there was "Captain Kelly's Kitchen," an update of a traditional Irish folk song. It's a cautionary tale about a poor laddie who's invited in for some courtin' in the kitchen but is betrayed to the law by his bewitchin' belle. It's spiced with a "toora loora la" chorus.
Another standout was "Citizen C.I.A.," a sort of mock recruitment anthem that blazes away at showoff speed. "We're knee-deep in guerrillas, yeah the party never stops," singer Al Barr seethed, "United States of America, undercover cop."
Barr belts like he gargled gravel and stalks the stage with a caged-tiger intensity, often bounding into the crowd. Bassist and co-founder Ken Casey added lead vocals and offered a story about a U.S. soldier in Iraq who wrote to his family that he wanted the Murphys' version of "Fields of Athenry" played at his funeral if he didn't make it back. The band attended his service early this year.
While not all of the opening-night L.A. crowd was nearly as engrossed as the pit crew, Dropkick Murphys once again showed that there's nothing quite as invigorating as a good musical face slap. Cheers, lads.