“It’s funny playing these shows where everyone’s seated,” Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey said to a sold out crowd in Reno. “It’s like we’re a bunch of adults!” The band followed up Casey’s words by bouncing into the intro to their song “Middle Finger,” which brought all those adults to their feet with middle fingers prominently waving.
The difference was that the Dropkick Murphys are on the tail end of its “This Machine… “ tour, the band’s first foray into an entire tour booked into theaters with seating rather than their typical open floor establishments. It was immediately clear that Friday night’s performance was not just different than the typical Dropkick Murphys show in terms of venue layouts, but was set to be something uniquely special for those who have previously seen the band. With a stage draped with Virgin Mary statuary, red roses and crisply illuminated crucifixes, the band took to the stage to play the songs on their first acoustic album in their 26-year history, “This Machine Still Kills Fascists.”
Early in the Nov. 11 show, Casey explained the story of how the album came to be, saying that Woody Guthrie’s grandson was a punk, and explained to his mom how he listened to a band called the Dropkick Murphys that had a lot of the same working class and political leanings as the boy’s grandfather had sang about.
“I think Grandpa would’ve liked this,” Casey describes the conversation going.
Woody’s daughter, who oversaw Guthrie’s estate and possessions, then reached out to the band and invited them to visit and look through some of the folk singer’s old journals and unfinished lyrics. The band took these and arranged them into the lyrical foundations of the songs that they would write and record in Woody’s home state of Oklahoma. The result being this album, and the concert being their attempts to bring those songs to life.
At this point known for their energetic performances and rabble rousing dialogue between songs, the acoustic treatment gave the group an opportunity to really put their musical chops on display, as well as rework a lot of their older material. And I mean a lot! The set list consisted of 21 songs spanning the group’s albums.
Woody Guthrie maintained a presence as well, his portrait displayed front and center onstage throughout the night’s performers. Between songs, Barr would speak to the audience on respecting others whose labor and work built and continue to uphold our society and communities. Despite the acoustic nature of the new record and reworkings of many of their old songs, there was no lack of punch onstage. Early on, the frontman tapped security on the shoulder to give the OK for the audience to push to the front of the aisles and dance beside the stage, to which many left their seats and swayed to the group’s anarchic Celtic flow.
Remarking on the band’s first seated theater tour in more than two-and-a-half decades as a group, the singer joked, “We’re not used to there being so many women up front. Usually we look down and see a pit. But on this tour we’re hearing women screaming. We feel a little bit like New Kids On The Block.”
Having played a good amount of songs from the new record, the band said that they had time to play a few old ones, before launching into a string of their well-known tracks such as “Rose Tattoo,” “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” and “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced,”
While no one can say that the Dropkick Murphys aren’t a hardworking band, finishing up their set with two encores, the “This Machine…” tour only reinforces that the group puts in the effort night in and night out to give the best performance for their fans, and come across as some of the most sincere and nicest people as well. As the lights came on and the house music began to announce the end of the show more than 90 minutes after it began, band members remained onstage shaking hands and greeting people in the crowd who made their way to the stage even as the rest of the Grande Exposition Hall slowly emptied out.
Indeed, the band’s “This Machine…” tour was not just a great performance, but had the glow of something special. With Woody Guthrie’s presence holding the stage in image and in sound, the tour marked a well-known group taking a leap into something different, and the results completely complimenting their normal sound and performance.