Dropkick Murphys - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Dropkick Murphys

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

Dropkick Murphys. The band we love to hate. I will unashamedly admit that Do or Die is one of my very favorite records. Truth be told, I pretty much love all the Hellcat stuff. I've only enjoyed a couple of songs on each of the last few albums, but the band’s popularity has continued to soar. Dropkick Murphys have become one of the biggest names in punk, at least in part because of their live show. I've seen them a bunch of times over the years, and their shows have generally been fun, high energy events. All that being said, I've probably seen them enough.

It’s likely I would have skipped the show at 20 Monroe Live in downtown Grand Rapids on February 19th, if it wasn't for the openers. I was especially interested in the two middle bands, Booze & Glory and Lenny Lashley's Gang of One. Maybe it was a self fulfilling prophecy, but I did end up enjoying those bands the most. Even though the holiday is still nearly a month away, this was billed as the St. Patrick's Day Tour. This was made even more ironic by the fact that the weather outside was still the dead of winter.

Dropkick Murphys came on about 9:30, and opened with the newer song “The Boys are Back”. I'm sure many of you will disagree, but I think this is the type of song that represents everything that's wrong with the band in its current state. It's repetitive, derivative and tedious. It's got a big, dumb sing along hook, but no real substance. (See also “Blood” and “Paying My Way”.) It was made to be played at sporting events, not punk shows. I wish they would have just covered the Thin Lizzy song that they stole the idea from. They followed that up with their take on the traditional “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya”, and things were off to a slow start.

Here's the real bombshell from the evening, at least for me - Ken Casey is no longer playing his own bass. He's essentially become the co-lead singer. DKM has become the celt-punk version of Linkin Park! Casey has been handling the lead vocals more frequently in recent years, and many of us have suspected that he coveted the frontman spot. It would seem we were right. Personally, I only like Casey's voice in small doses. DKM is just better when Al Barr is handling the vast majority of the singing. I guess Casey has always been the hype man, but this feels like they finally jumped the shark. How long until Barr leaves over creative differences? Anyway, the live band has grown to a bloated eight piece lineup.

One thing the Dropkick Murphys have been good at in recent years is varying their setlist between tours. There even seems to be a fair amount of variation from night to night. This time around they played a four song mini set from The Gangs All Here that us old timers enjoyed. (Two years ago they did something similar for Do or Die.) It included “Curse of a Fallen Soul”, “The Gangs All Here”, “Wheel of Misfortune” and “The Fighting 69th”. Other highlights from the good old days were the punk version of “Boys on the Dock” and “Which Side Are You On?” from Sing Loud, Sing Proud. The deepest cut was probably “Surrender” from The Warrior’s Code.

Later in the set and encore came other personal favorites like “The State of Massachusetts”, “The Worker’s Song” and “Rose Tattoo”. With the good came the bad, like the bland showtune “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the even blander “We’ll Meet Again”. The latter song seems to have been written for the sole purpose of being played during the encore. In what has become a Dropkick Murphys tradition, they let a bunch of fans on stage for said encore. They closed on a high note with a rousing rendition of the Bon Scott era AC/DC classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. Dropkick Murphys were once on the cutting edge of a punk movement, now they just feel like another decent rock and roll band.

Amigo the Devil opened the show, and were the one band I wasn’t familiar with. It turns out “they” were just a paunchy, long-haired dude with a banjo. I only caught about 10 minutes of his set, so I didn’t really have enough time to form much of an opinion. I will say that Amigo the Devil appeared to be his own best PR man. Based on what I saw on social media the next day, it would seem I was the only one in the crowd of 2000 or so that didn’t get a selfie with him.

Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One played an inspired set that included a bunch of songs from his excellent, just released album All Are Welcome. Lashley sings and plays electric and acoustic guitar, and leads a band that includes another electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The other guitarist and keyboardist were actually multi instrumentalists, so the five of them were able to cover a wide musical spectrum. There was some steel guitar, trumpet, and even this weird little keyboard thing that had to be blown into like a trumpet.

Lenny Lashley’s gang of One would most easily be described as folk punk, but they’ve got a lot of grit. Many of us are pretty sick of the punk singer turned folk punk or alt country guy. It often feels like a forced place where aging punk frontmen end up. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case for the Darkbuster leader. It’s like this is what he was meant to do, and the punk think was more of a sideline. Lashley’s new songs also help me understand the influence he had on the outstanding 2018 Street Dogs album, Stand for Something or Die for Nothing. He writes political songs from a human angle, and avoids being preachy or overly simplistic. I feared the crowd wouldn’t appreciate the more subtle approach, but Lashley was well received.

Booze & Glory played a much different, but no less invigorating set. The British quartet plays a traditional, energetic style of punk. On their records they incorporate organ and elements of reggae, but live they’re much more straightforward punk and oi. They just put out their fourth album, and if you’re into that type of punk, these guys should be on your radar. Even if that’s not your style you should still check out Booze & Glory. Overall it was a pretty good night of entertainment, but I would have preferred to see the middle bands in a smaller, dingier club. Maybe next time.