By JAY N. MILLER
For The Patriot Ledger
Johnny Rotten didn't like the way the first song started last night. ''First rehearsal?'' he spat at his bandmates in the Sex Pistols.
When they'd finished a ragtag version of something that sounded like it might be titled ''Animal,'' Rotten (John Lydon) shook his head and cursed, ''(Bleeping) great! We got one song down!''
Maybe it's just me, but what seemed like gloriously anarchic rebellion in 1977, in the person of Rotten's scathing stage presence, just seemed like Mr. Cranky last night at the FleetBoston Pavilion.
Part of the problem may have been the blistering hour-long set turned in by the Quincy/Milton/Boston band Dropkick Murphys, which not only energized the near-sellout crowd of about 4,500, but also pointed out the Sex Pistols' musical limitations.
To be sure, a stretch starting with ''God Save the Queen'' found the Pistols' capturing that visceral ferocity and confrontational drive that made them the leading lights in the early years of punk rock. But the first two-thirds of their set was sloppy and strangely static, and Rotten's stage patter seemed forced and even foolish.
There was no doubting the intensity of ''God Save the Queen,'' the single the BBC banned circa '78. In retrospect, it's obvious the tune is a hectic framework for Rotten's commentary. ''Liar'' was all fury, and ''No Fun'' added rumbling menace, but both needed more melody.
There was a definite tumbling, out-of-control momentum to ''Pretty Vacant,'' and the warble in Rotten's vocals emphasized the bile in ''EMI,'' a tune written about their first record company, which dropped them after hearing their first album. ''Anarchy in the UK'' was a fittingly vivid encore, with a fiery Steve Jones guitar solo, and Rotten leading a mass sing-along.
The Dropkick Murphys opened by asking the crowd ''Is this a punk rock show or what? Get rid of those chairs and everybody come on down front!'' That prompted a mass stampede over and around chairs that soon overwhelmed security.
A hot ''For Boston'' got things rolling, and their reworking of Woody Guthrie's ''Blackout Tonight'' put their own working class political views front and center. ''Walk Away,'' from their new album, depicted the deadbeat dad problem amid chainsaw rhythms and Al Barr's growling vocals. Stephanie Doherty joined Milton native Ken Casey for the duet ''The Dirty Glass,'' which aptly showcases the band's command of both Celtic and punk music.
''The Outcast'' was a rousing punk anthem, and ''Stand Up and Fight'' got those blue collar rebels stirred up even more. Bagpiper Spicy McHaggis was the melodic center of a pulverizing run through ''Amazing Grace.'' Casey's ''Time to Go'' saluted his beloved Boston Bruins. Accordion and pennywhistle on ''Forever'' proved the Dropkicks can play a romantic ballad.
Casey and Doherty did another duet on Tim Hardin's old ''If I Were a Carpenter,'' cranked up to pulsating punk tempos here. The frenetic pulse and thoughtful lyric of ''Workers Song (Handful of Earth),'' also from the latest CD, made it an anthem able to provoke both inspiration and perspiration. It was the kind of finale that made you forgive the Dropkicks their opening silliness. And for musical ability, lyrical depth, and a stage show that's for real, the Dropkicks left the Sex Pistols in the dust.
The Reverend Horton Heat's punkabilly warmed up early arrivals.
Copyright 2003 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Thursday, August 21, 2003