Written by Eric Sperrazza
Up to this point, my journey into the return of live music brought me to steel town stages, football stadiums, casinos, and now an amphitheater.
As I pulled into West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, one could see the true mark of summer concerts was here.
There, I would have the opportunity to see the Dropkick Murphys and Rancid‘s Boston to Berkley II show on the Skyline Stage at the Mann Center.
Winding through the streets of West Philly, amongst the row homes, bodegas, and vintage suburban homes on the Main Line, I could see the quintessential punk rock fans fall in line to enter the parking lot. With denim vests, taxi driver hats, Converse All-Stars, and concert shirts of events gone by ubiquitous across the lawn of cars, I knew that this was to be a punk rock celebration 17 months in the making!
Walking onto the grounds of the Mann Center, security was quick to remind us that we were in Pennsylvania, and masks were preferred when walking into the venue. A lot of us entering the venue had no problem with masking up. As we walked onto the field and proceeded to the Skyline Stage, the mandate was a bit more relaxed; a staunch change from the other Pennsylvania shows I’ve attended just a month earlier. Making my way to the front, I claimed my space against the barrier to the stage and got ready for the night.
The SoCal punk band, The Bronx, opened the show with lead singer, Matt Caughthran, commanding the crowd, while a small pocket of moshers began to form in the front. The audience slowly grew with everyone from toddlers to senior citizens and every subsect of punk, in between, enjoying the melee of the moment.
Performing classics of their 20-year stint, as well as new songs like “White Shadow” off their new album, Bronx VI, the crowd, became increasingly electrified and primed for the night ahead.
Down went the lights as The Chieftains‘ “The Foggy Dew” played from the sound system. The crowd’s excitement intensified, and with a thunderous boom, the Dropkick Murphys exploded on stage, ripping into “The State of Massachusetts” while the audience erupted with cheers.
There is something to be said about the Dropkick Murphys; they are not just a band playing music, but an entire show, an experience, encompassing every square inch of a stage.
Along with pipers, banjos, and flutes adding to the ferocity, vocalists Al Barr and Ken Casey seemingly do laps, back and forth, across the stage, to ensure they reach every person that came to see their show. That unique Celtic punk sound, and overall spectacle of a show, attracted fans at the Skyline Stage from all walks of life and gave back to the band every last drop of energy they gave out.
Along with time-honored classics like “The Boys are Back,” “Rose Tattoo,” and “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya,” Dropkick offered up performances of songs off their new album, Turn Up That Dial. New tracks like “Queen of Suffolk County,” “L-EE-B-O-Y,” “Smash Shit Up,” and “I Wish You Were Here,” slipped seamlessly into the setlist, proving that the Dropkick Murphys has not lost a lick of the magic that brought them to the level of popularity they enjoy.
With the heavens shook by the volume of the crowd singing, screaming, and jumping, the Dropkick Murphys ended their show with the famous song, “Shipping Up to Boston.”
There was just enough time for the crowd to refresh their beverages before the stage went dark again. With searing red lights blasting, Rancid appeared and jumped right into their hit, “Roots Radicals,” from the multi-platinum runaway hit album, …And Out Come The Wolves.
Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman still sang with the same perfect synchronicity as if it were still 1994. Although long gone were the scrappy kids with mohawks, in their place, you had battle-tested artists that were enjoying giving a certain level of energy to the crowd, drunk off the excitement, and manic with the joy of the music.
The Dropkick Murphys’ keyboardist Jeff DaRosa pulled double-duty and added to the Rancid set of songs, helping create the vibe for the night.
Rancid hit the proverbial shuffle button on their greatest hits, performing “Salvation,” “Olympia, WA,” “Time Bomb,” “Fall Back Down,” and more. Off of their latest record, Trouble Maker, they performed the track, “Telegraph Avenue.”
Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys even came onto the stage and performed “Harry Bridges” and “Ghost of a Chance” with the band. With a sea of crowd surfers into the horizon line and hundreds of people belting out the words and moving in unison, the show ended with the legendary Rancid song, “Ruby Soho.”
As the lights came on, and the entire crowd did the slow walk back to our cars, exhausted from the evening, dripping with sweat. I have to say that this was one of the best nights (If not THE best night) back in the audience for summer concerts.
It was the perfect night; between the location, the crowd, the view, and above all, the show, it was the perfect night at an outdoor stage.
I’m not above finding this tour again, elsewhere in the country, to experience this all, again. My only wish is that more songs from Rancid‘s album, Trouble Maker, would have been featured on their setlist. However, with so much great content offered up, “too much” might have been too much.
My only regret? That I did not take my Dad to this show with me. As much as we differ in musical interests, at times, there is something about the Dropkick Murphys that transcends punk to my Irish father.
Along with bands like The Pogues and Flogging Molly, Dropkick songs resonate with my father like any old Irish pub song. They helped to create a bond that we share and songs we drink whiskey to on St. Patrick’s Day.
The moment I immersed myself in their set, I immediately wished my Old Man was next to me, adorned with his taxi driver hat and a concert shirt, singing “Shipping Up to Boston.”
Of course, the Boston to Berkley II Tour isn’t over yet… and neither is the summer.
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