By: Andrew Bruss
"I'm Shipping Up To Boston's" cameo in Martin Scorsese's The Departed did a lot to rocket Dropkick Murphys onto the national stage, but well before Marty won his Oscar, Bay State residents knew the Celtic-punk rock outfit as the group who scored the soundtrack to the Red Sox's 2004 World Series-winning season, and as an act whose songs are ripe with themes of union struggles and workingman's solidarity, issues generations deep in the Boston act's roots.
Although they were on a tour stop in Dallas during our phone interview, the stronghold of Dropkick Murphys will always be Beantown, a fact actively being reinforced by their recent seven-night run at the Boston House of Blues, located directly across Lansdowne Street from Fenway Park. A St. Patrick's Day run of shows on Lansdowne Street has long been a Dropkick Murphys tradition, and based on the fact that they've just released their second live album from these shows, Live On Lansdowne, Boston, MA (released March 16 on the band's eponymous label) [their 2002 and 2009 runs have each seen an official live release], it goes without saying that the group is at their best when they bring it to Boston for St. Patty's Day. Unlike acts in the jam scene, the Dropkick's aren't found pulling three-set marathons on New Year's Eve, but the group's Lansdowne performances are like New Year's and Halloween rolled into one.
JamBase spoke with the Dropkicks frontman Al Barr while they wrapped up the pre-Lansdowne stretch of their current tour. For anyone who was surprised to see the crowned-kings of Boston's punk circuit booked for Bonnaroo, what Barr has to say might surprise you.
JamBase: The Dropkicks have a seven-show run coming up at the House Of Blues on Lansdowne Street [in Boston] on the week of Saint Patrick's Day. I first saw one of these shows in 2002. How long has this been a tradition?
Al Barr: This is our tenth year doing it on Lansdowne; tenth year of doing it in Boston.
JamBase: Do you feel like you have to outdo yourself each year?
Al Barr: We do what we do and we do it to the best of our ability, and that's all that anyone's come to expect from us [laughs]. We just want to put on the best show we can, and in saying that we're doing seven shows in six days. So, by Friday night we want to be as strong as we were on Wednesday. The challenge for us is to deliver on that promise, especially when we get into the scenario where we're playing two shows in one day.
Are you guys going to try and vary it up as much as possible, or do you want the kid seeing the matinee show on Wednesday to get the same experience as the guy who catches the show on Friday night?
There are songs that will be a staple for every set, but we'll definitely be doing a lot of different stuff. We're on tour right now, and the lion's share of our sound checks are being spent dusting off songs we haven't played in a while but are planning on busting out for the Saint Patrick's Day sets.
We tracked ticket sales and thought, maybe it's the same people going to every show," but it turns out that that was nowhere near the case. So we asked, "Do we need to change [the setlists]?" We felt like if we didn't change up our sets it would be like going into this Groundhog Day scenario, where it feels like one long set that doesn't end for seven days. For our own sanity, we have to put in different songs.
I've seen you perform at Red Sox victory rallies and work out of a building that was on the '07 parade route, where you had [Sox closer Jonathan] Papelbon jigging along to the Murphys on a flatbed. Do you think it's fair to say you guys have become the unofficial band of the city of Boston?
As far as some people are concerned, for sure. I don't think we could get much closer. It's pretty wild how things have developed. People still look at Aerosmith as a band of greater fame who are still the official band of Boston. But if you talk to the locals, you get Dropkick Murphys out of 'em a lot more than you would have a few years ago.
Is "I'm Shipping Up To Boston," the new "Dirty Water?"
It's getting close to it, man. I think we'll give it a couple more years, but yeah [laughs], it's getting close to that. That song's far exceeded any of our expectations. When we did that song we could not conceive what would be done with it. We had no idea how it would be used. So yeah, it's pretty wild.
How did your relationship with the Sox organization start? When you first performed at a Sox rally were you asked to play? Was it something you wanted to do for the fans?
It all started with "Tessie," when we did the remake of the old [Royal] Rooters fight song. We laid the groundwork there, and when Papelbon accepted "Shipping" as the battle cry in '07, that sort of set things in stone, but it all started with "Tessie" - the 86-year-old curse being broken and the whole "Do you believe in curses?" [line]. I mean "Tessie" was the mainstay that brought home a lot of championships, and when the song disappeared so did the championships. So, on its return, it's worth note that the championships [returned] as well.
| Dropkick Murphys|
As a group so closely affiliated with Red Sox Nation, do you feel that could make it harder from someone in Yankee Universe to sink their teeth into your tunes?
That's what's funny. The last time we played Manhattan, we had a Yankees suck chant going up in the audience. It was great being in the belly of the beast and have that go on. I remember in '04 when we played The Fillmore at Irving Plaza, we had a video screen showing highlights of the 2004 ALCS series between the Yankees and Red Sox [which the Red Sox won], and we had full beer cans and bottles thrown at us [laughs]. It got ugly real quick.
You must have loved it.
Of course, that was the intention. Granted, when one of the full cans of beer dinged my ear and came that close to my melon, oh man, but we expected it. It's become less and less intense, in terms of being afraid to do that down there. We definitely do get [rivalry hostility] from [our] Yankees fans. The ones that are into us, they're into us, but when it comes to sports, it's like the separation of church and state. They'll say, "I'm going to pretend that this song doesn't exist because I like the band." But I do not know how many fans we've lost because of "Tessie" and "Shipping."
When you guys play in Cali or Europe do you have the rep as a band from Boston?
Definitely. We carry that with us everywhere we go. We've had Yankees suck chants launched all over the country.
| Al Barr - Dropkick Murphys|
You just released Live On Lansdowne, Boston MA. Are you working on any new studio material?
Yes, we are, sir. We're getting ready to put that on the front burner, so people should be seeing something from us by the end of the year or early next year. But we're shooting for the end of the year for our new studio album.
Have you always had a strong stage presence, even back when you were in The Bruisers, or is it something that's developed over the years?
Well, that's a compliment you're giving me, so it would be lofty of me to say, "Oh yeah, I've always been this powerful." I've always put 100-percent into what I do. Over the last 22 years of [playing with the] Bruisers and Dropkicks, and 27 years of being in bands, I've honed my craft a bit. I've learned a lot the last 12 years just doing this band. It's a constant learning process for me and I'm always trying to give 100-percent. People going through the door deserve 100-percent for what they spend on the tickets.
Your tunes are all about union struggles and working class roots. Has the commercial success of the Dropkicks changed the way you see these struggles or has it further solidified the paradigm through which you see these issues?
If anything, it's solidified it. Just because we've had success doesn't mean we've forgotten where we come from. Our family is still our family, and our friends are still our friends. We're still rooted in that, so it would be real hard for us to turn our back on our beliefs. That would be like turning our back on our family and our friends. And that's something the Dropkicks would never do.
Has the crowd changed over the years?
We have a wider listening audience than we had years past, but we still have the core fans that say, "I've been listening to you guys since the beginning." We get people who say, "I just got into you on the last record," or, "I heard you in that movie and just got the record." So, there's a myriad of different answers to that one.
You guys are playing Bonnaroo this summer. It's changed a lot over the years but it has the reputation of being a hippie festival. How do you think that crowd will take to the Dropkick Murphys?
We're going to un-jam the jam band crowd. We're going to do what we do and offend who we offend, and hopefully please who we please. We're just going to fly our flag, and if people rally to it, or coil to it, that all depends on what happens.
Are you going to get a circle pit going in Manchester, Tennessee?
We've played some pretty crazy places. We played Glastonbury Festival years ago. When we were pitched the opportunity we were told we'd play in a private spot for all these people, and they put us on at 11 a.m. and there were all these people, literally, stepping out of their tents and brushing their teeth to the sound of our bagpipes. It was a really muddy, borderline hippie crowd, but we did what we did and will continue to do so.
| Dropkick Murphys|
How does the band differ onstage compared to what it does on record?
The stage is always our thing, that's how we define ourselves as a band. The records are all well and good for introducing new songs, but those songs take on a whole new dimension when we take them to the stage. I just read a review of the live record. It was a good review but they said they'd rather of had a new album with new songs. I can understand that but we've had three studio albums since the last live record. There has been a lot of time and some lineup change; we're a whole new outfit. It was important to put out a live record to show that. Our studio albums are good but live is where we claim our territory. That's where you find what we refer to as the most important member of the band, and that's the audience. We've had people come to see us at festivals who don't know anything about us but become fans at live shows. For us, the live show is just as important, if not more important, than our studio albums.
It's where you shine.
I didn't want to say that, but it's where we hunt the best.
What advice do you have for someone going to their first Dropkicks show?
It depends on what kind of music you listen to. If you're coming from the outskirts of easy listening, I'd advise you to bring earplugs and stay in the back. If you're used to a raw time, jump right in and get in the pit. It all depends on where you're coming from, but be prepared to have a good time.
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