- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Get your Guinness early this Sunday when Boston working-class punks Dropkick Murphys bring their noise (plus their fiddle and bagpipes) to headline an early show at the 9:30 Club.

“When the Pogues came along [in the 1980s] I thought, OK, this is Irish music for my generation,” recalls bassist Ken Casey, who had grown up with traditional artists like the Clancy Brothers as well as punk.

“I always thought of the Pogues as a traditional [Irish] band with a punk rock attitude, and we’re more of a punk band with traditional influences.”

The Murphys’ home label is Hellcat/Epitaph, run by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, and last year’s release, “The Warrior’s Code,” owes a lot to Rancid’s Americanized clash sound. “The Walking Dead” even finds Murphys’ vocalist Al Barr borrowing Mr. Armstrong’s rollicking vocal style, albeit with a more whiskey-hewn edge.

“We’re both rooted in that classic ‘70s British punk sound,” Mr. Casey says. “But they do the ska stuff and we do the Irish thing.”

“Code,” Mr. Casey, says, is “pretty similar” to their other albums: “ballads to fast hard-core songs to Irish songs.” For an Irish-style punk album, it’s surprisingly mature, though not exactly grown up: Even the requisite drinking and fighting songs are about drying out (“Sunshine Highway”) and heroic boxers (the title track).

For sheer energy, the highlight here is a warp-speed remake of the rambunctious traditional “Courtin’ in the Kitchen,” with its shout-along chorus and Mr. Barr and Mr. Casey goofily trading vocals throughout. It’s tight but still sounds spontaneous.

“There’s a long list of all the [traditional] songs we love and would be fun to translate to our version,” Mr. Casey says, noting they’ve recorded 10 traditional songs over their five albums and play three or four during their live sets.

The Murphys have also gone the Wilco/Billy Bragg route by writing music for an unrecorded Woody Guthrie song, in this case a goofy ditty about a sailor “Shipping Up To Boston” to find his wooden leg. Mr. Guthrie’s grandson is a fan, and they were contacted by Mr. Guthrie’s daughter, who handles his archives. (Mr. Casey notes he had to wear “special white gloves” to handle the original lyric sheets.)

Not quite as traditional, but still a live staple, is “Skinhead on the MBTA” from the Murphys’ debut album. Unlike the original mid-century folk hit “Charlie on the MTA,” the title character isn’t trapped on the Boston subway, he’s just hijacked a train to go joyriding. It’s partly social satire, but mostly an excuse to play a folk song really fast and make some Boston references in the process.

“Citizen C.I.A.” is a rant squarely in the Dead Kennedys’ punk tradition: sarcasm (“Now I’ve trained an army for my kids to fight one day”) mixed with humor (a Jennifer Garner/”Alias” joke).

“If you can do it in a lighthearted way, sometimes the message gets across better,” says Mr. Casey. More poignant is “The Green Fields of France,” a modern ballad of World War I; and “Last Letter Home,” based on a Murphys’ fan’s letter to his mother just before he was killed in Iraq.

Per the soldier’s last wishes, the band played the modern but traditional-sounding “Fields of Athenry” (also a Murphys live staple) at his funeral.

“We played it on the bagpipes outside the church. … They wouldn’t let us play it in the church because it’s not approved church music,” Mr. Casey says.

The sarcasm gets less political on “Wicked Sensitive Crew” as the band mocks its own hooligan reputation as well as those “pop-punk tough guys with neck tattoos,” a probable shot at a few of their Warped Tour stagemates.

The rousing closing track is “Tessie,” a century-old Red Sox fan anthem, which the Red Sox asked the band to remake because of its experience modernizing traditional Irish songs.

“This song was outdated like you couldn’t believe,” Mr. Casey says. “But the thing it had going for it was it was in B-flat, the key of the bagpipes.”

The Murphys released it during last year’s playoffs, even recruiting some Sox players to sing backup, though their vocals are hard to hear in the mix.

“There’s a reason why, believe me,” Mr. Casey laughs, but concedes, “You throw me in at center field, I’m not gonna do any better at that job, you know?”

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