Written by Eric Sperrazza
There are just certain things you know to be true in the world of music that aren’t even worth debating. One of those truths is that there is no better show to be in attendance for on Saint Patrick’s Day than a Dropkick Murphys show.
For years, Dropkick‘s Saint Patrick’s Day show has been growing from one gig to a few dates prior to the holiday, and then a full-blown tour of over a dozen dates leading up to March 17th in Boston. No longer was there a pilgrimage to Massachusetts with the hope of getting a ticket to the coveted show; these days, Dropkick Murphys brings the party to you!
This year, Dropkick planned on hitting the road with The Rumjacks and The Bombpops with the exception of two shows where Jim Lindberg of Pennywise would take their place. With days before the tour launching, a video press release aired informing the legion of fans that Al Burr would not be joining Tim Brennan (guitars, accordion, mellotron, whistles, vocals), Ken Casey (lead vocals, bass guitar), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica, acoustic guitars, vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, vocals), James Lynch (guitar, vocals), Kevin Rheault (touring bassist) and Lee Forshner (touring bagpipe player) on the tour. Burr‘s mother had fallen ill and had made the decision to care for her and support the tour from the sidelines. “Family, First” Ken Casey could be heard saying in the background.
And so the tour launched and did so, as luck would have it, right in our backyard: Reading, Pennsylvania, at the Santander Arena.
The Rumjacks kicked off the event first, setting the stage for a proper St. Patrick’s Day celebration. What they do, as well as bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, is find this unique way to blur the lines between Irish folk songs that you’d imagine being sung in a Pub in Dublin on a Friday Night with hard, fast, and loud rock. The Rumjacks did not disappoint! With tons of fanservice with hits like “The Pot & Kettle” and “An Irish Pub Song,” the energy was thick already.
Next, came The Bombpops. What can I say about Jen Razavi (lead vocals/guitar) that is more visually impactful than the observation that she is the embodiment of the ferocity, the energy, the talent, and attitude of every single Riot GRRRL Pioneer that came before her? I was literally watching my own 12-year-old daughter frozen in her tracks, wide-eyed and aghast, as the band ripped into “13 Stories Down.” The same way I watched Donita Sparks, Kathleen Hanna, and Kim Deal speak directly into the souls of the girls around me in the 90s, my daughter was moved and some empowering force
was unleashed in unison with hundreds of others… That’s not just a great set. That is the miracle that is rock and roll.
After a short intermission, Dropkick opened their show as they always have, as far back as I can remember; Sinead O’Connor’s voice hauntingly singing “The Foggy Dew.” The lights went up and opened with “The Lonesome Boatman.”
Ken Casey also humbled himself to the audience asking with a smile for cues when he stopped singing that he has to keep doing Al‘s verses as well. They proceeded to tear into a venerable clinic of Dropkick Discography pulling out vintage hits like “Caught in a Jar” mixed with staple songs like “The Boys Are Back” and even singles from their newest album, “Turn Up That Dial.” For over two hours, Casey commanded the stage, doing the job of two men, except when he had some help. Razavi came out to sing “The Dirty Glass” with the band and The Rumjacks helped with “The Workers Song.”
The night ended with three encores. “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” an Equals cover, “Police On My Back” and, of course… “Shipping Up to Boston.”
The show was every bit worth seeing and absolutely felt like, for one night, I was with an auditorium of my closest friends celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in February. My only criticism was not of the bands, the sets, or the sheer electricity being passed back and forth between Ken Casey and his fans.
Rather, I don’t think the Santander Arena in Reading was the best place to bring that performance. Reading is almost an hour to Philadelphia or Harrisburg to attract a mass of city ticket holders. Secondly, it was on a Monday. As a result, the arena was more than half empty. I have seen the Dropkick Murphys shows sell out the TD Garden in Boston and fill Summer Stage seating to maximum capacity. I believe a show of this magnitude would have done better at Union Transfer or the Fillmore in Philadelphia. I have seen footage and photos of this year’s tour, and every other show is exploding with fans in green plaid, Dr. Martens boots, and Newsboy hats. It was just Reading.
Overall, the night was rife with fan camaraderie, potent energy, great music by great artists, and an experience that many have been fiending to be a part of for years. As for me, my littlest girl packed up for a road trip on a Monday to watch me fan out and then to be struck, herself. That moment made the whole night one of my favorite Dropkick concert moments I’ve ever had. It wouldn’t have happened if Reading wasn’t a stop, so I will forever be grateful.
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