The best of times

By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 7, 2007

“Echoes on A. Street” is a bit slower than the rest of the album, but it’s still a powerhouse, with deeply emotional lyrics and a heart-tugging melody. “It’s a love song,” says Barr.

With a secret. “We want people to think we wrote it about a chick. ‘Those pussies, they wrote a song about a chick.’ And then later [they realize], ‘Oh, it’s about a dog.’ We weren’t gonna give that one away, but the whole theory of how much our family is there for us and supports us — metaphorically, what represents that better than the family dog?”

Nostalgia sells
The family support is there, even when the Dropkicks are not, spending as much as half of every year touring the globe, from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, Tokyo to Sydney. It’s a grind. But it’s got to be done. “I equate it to being a merchant marine,” says Casey. “It’s great to be home, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

And as the band has conquered the globe, a funny thing has happened. Via their sprawling, booze-soaked concerts, those excoriating shout-alongs, Dropkick Murphys have found themselves a sort of roving revival show, inadvertent ambassadors of Boston-Irish culture. “We’re in Sydney, Australia, and you see people in Red Sox and Bruins shirts,” says Casey. “They ain’t from Boston.”

And in the cities in Florida and California and elsewhere, where the Massholes have moved in droves, the Dropkicks are a lifeline. “Where the transplants are, we get a big contingent of Boston people and make them feel at home for the night,” says Casey. “Other people, I think they like the camaraderie we represent from the city, and they wanna be a part of it, even if they aren’t from Boston.”

In a Boston that’s gentrifying inexorably, a city that’s changed arguably more in the past 20 years than it had in the previous 50, the band’s blue-collar lyrical tropes are something of a throwback: odes to stouthearted and rough-handed immigrant forebears, to bar brawls and drunken weddings, to horse races and boxing matches and hockey fights (Casey deserves big props for being one of the last Bruins diehards around). But the vitality of the music breathes fierce life into these faded conceits. And through it all are the omnipresent reminders of the importance of community.

A colleague the other day told me he thought the Dropkicks trafficked in Irish-American clichés. And in a way he’s right. But then again, many a beery-teary trad ballad from the Auld Sod is all too happy to regale us with tired and treacly truisms. And you know what they say about clichés often having basis in truth? That’s also sort of true.

Even if their version of Boston is a sepia-toned photo that barely exists any more except in their lyrics, the Dropkicks’ music is so fierce and furious, their stage presence so explosive, and their commitment to their audience so ironclad, one can’t help but be moved.

Hell, just the other day, riding the Red Line across the Longfellow Bridge as the Back Bay skyline trundled into view, the Dropkicks’ “For Boston” shuffled onto my iPod. The ringing bagpipe lead-in. The tattoo-like drum rolls. The deafening twin guitars. Then, magnificently, the split second before the song ignites into double time and the full-throated howl of a sold-out club screams along. It’s the BC fight song, for cripes sake. But I’ll admit: I got a fleeting chill.

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