Slip in the DVD portion of its new album, Live on Lansdowne, and you fast come to realize a deep cultural and stylistic distinction about Dropkick Murphys.
It's an Irish band, reflecting Irish tradition supported by a loyal Irish fan base. Yet it exists nowhere near the Emerald Isle.
Live on Lansdowne instead showcases the venerable band's immensely electric sound — which meshes Irish traditional music with punk rock-ish immediacy — in action during St. Patrick's Day week in Boston, its hometown. That's where a strong Irish-American contingency inspired, supported and championed the band until the rest of the world woke up to it.
Not surprisingly, Dropkick Murphys — which simultaneously evoke The Chieftains, The Pogues and The Clash on the DVD — doesn't offer a Celtic celebration so much as it does a boiling rock 'n' roll brawl when it hits the stage.
For singer Al Barr, such a sound was just as hard-earned as the national following that the band has amassed over the past decade. To begin with, he's one of the ensemble's only members not of Irish descent.
"I'm the Scottish-German of the group, the non-Irishman," he said. "But I grew up with the Irish. My wife is Irish. My son and daughter are of Irish blood. My oldest friends are Irish. In New England, the Irish are everywhere. So Irish folk music wasn't something completely unfamiliar to me when I joined the band. But I was still in for kind of a crash course on it."
When Barr joined the band after nearly 15 years of work with Boston-area punk groups, Dropkick Murphys was essentially a stationary unit, having played only sporadically throughout the country and once in Europe. As the collision of Irish traditional inspiration began mingling more with rockish intensity, word of the band began to spread readily outside of New England. Credit a national tour with fellow Bostoners The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for furthering the cause.
"The Bosstones were blowing up when they took the band out," Barr said. "So that really helped. But the band was a pretty different animal then. We had not incorporated all of the folk instruments into what we were doing. There were splashes of them on some records. But we started to feel it was kind of cheesy to have all this great instrumentation on a record and not be able to feature it in the music when we played live.
"It was with the (2001) album Sing Loud, Sing Proud that we went full core with what we call the wacky instruments, where we were able to mingle the two roaring guitarists we have with accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, tin whistles and bagpipes. Well, the bagpipes are never a problem to hear. But mixing in everything else was all trial and error. It took some time to get that sound where we wanted it."
Live on Lansdowne wastes no time in meshing that sound with a jagged party attitude. On the opening song, Famous for Nothing, Barr and bass guitarist Ken Casey become a snarling vocal tag team, as bagpiper Scruffy Wallace and drummer Matt Kelly pull the ropes of traditional music and brutishly giddy rock around them. The mood carries straight through until the Bosstones re-join their old mates for a show-closing melée treatment of Dropkick Murphys' accordion-fueled anthem I'm Shipping Up to Boston.
But Dropkick Murphys' devotion to its hometown goes beyond recording concert albums there and knocking things around onstage with some esteemed Boston-based pals. Barr and company have shared Dropkick Murphys' punkish traditionalism with the city's huge and devout sports community by performing at Boston Red Sox baseball games and Boston Bruins hockey games.
"We've had a run with the Red Sox, especially, that's been amazing," Barr said. "Of course, people don't go to ball games to hear music. One time, we played at Fenway (Park) when the Red Sox were playing the (New York) Yankees. They announced us, and you could have heard a pin drop. You could hear crickets. It was as though the audience was saying, 'I don't want to see these idiots. I want to see the game.'
"But those fans have really opened their hearts since then. We have a good record, too, in the sense that any time we play, the team we're backing that night wins. We're something like 10-and-0 at this point. So the true fans of the sports teams look at us as a kind of a rabbit's foot."