Dropkick Murphys, Face To Face
For those who aren't aware, the Dropkick Murphys are a celtic punk band all the way from Boston. They're not Irish exactly but they're proud of their roots and it's clear that Belfast is more than happy to embrace them as our own; they're becoming quite regular visitors and each time the crowds are getting bigger.
We're in the sold out Mandela Hall tonight - there's green, white and gold everywhere, silly wigs and leprechaun hats but more importantly, everyone seems to have had a pint of the black or ten.
Before we get to the Dropkicks, we've got the first ever Irish appearance of Face To Face, a seminal Calfornia punk band who got back together in 2008 after a four year hiatus. They're a band of considerable pedigree, having toured with NOFX, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Offspring in the past. In fact, The Offspring's current drummer was Face To Face's drummer for several years and four albums. Their single, The New Way was on heavy rotation on now-defunct music channel, P-Rock - remember it? It's about as impressive a support band as you're likely to get.
Now that I've significantly hyped them up, are they any good live? Yes. Of course they're good. They start off with A-OK before flowing straight into Struggle. The sound is a bit hazy at first with the guitars lost in the mix but by the end of the second song things are sounding pretty spot on. They're obviously genuinely happy to be here -all smiles, enjoying some friendly banter. They ask the crowd to sing-a-long and fill in the "woah-ohs" on Bill Of Goods and Belfast happily obliges. What was initially a modest crowd watching sceptically with arms folded or worse, ignoring the band altogether downing pints at the bar, has already been converted; it's really packed now, things are starting to get a bit more lively, they've got everyone's attention.
We're greeted to "a love song" when they burst frantically into You've Done Nothing, which is about as romantic as any 2-minute burst of loving is every likely to be I suppose. Not very. They continue their set blasting through tracks from an extensive back catalogue, musically they sit somewhere between Hot Water Music and Rocket From The Crypt; blistering punk rock with an upbeat feel.
Now it's the Dropkick Murphys turn to shine and they milk their intro for all it's worth - there's a long fiddle-de-dee Irish folk instrumental played before they take to the stage. The expectant crowd can't agree on a suitable chant as "Let's Go Murphys", "Let's Go Dropkicks" and "Dropkick Murphys" all get an airing but the one thing that is agreed on is that it's time for the main event.
They fire straight into For Boston, with front-man Al Barr bouncing around the stage like he's psyching himself up for a scrap. He looks edgy and jerky, he's a ball of energy; it's not long before he's down in the front row getting fans to sing the lyrics back at him. The Dropkicks are a band who put on a real show, there's plenty of flashy lighting and they've got a huge green backdrop which looks church-like. Tonight, they're preaching to the converted. There's a fairly sizeable mosh pit and everyone's singing along to every song as they play their way though favourites such as Famous For Nothing, The State Of Massachusetts, Sunshine Highway and Time To Go early in the set.
The tempo never really lets up and it's heaving in the Mandela now, totally rammed, it's sweaty, everyone's boozed up and having a right old shindig. It's a triumphant atmosphere actually, it feels like a homecoming gig. I suppose it is, of sorts. A pretend homecoming at least. As questionable as their Irishness may be, it's undeniable that the Dropkicks write great tunes and put on a great show; it's just non-stop anthem after anthem tonight as they work their way through a selection of tracks, new and old, including Caught In A Jar, B*stards On Parade, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya and countless others.
Towards the end of the set, the Dropkicks are joined onstage by Stephanie Dougherty, singer from fellow Boston punk band, Deadly Sins, to share vocal duties on Dirty Glass - a song which she sang on the recording of as well. It's a definite highlight, and it's shortly followed by an all-female stage invasion for Kiss Me I'm S**tfaced. Things are getting a bit chaotic in here, but it's all harmless fun and it's a credit to the security staff for letting everyone get on with it.
The band clear the stage for a while but leave all their equipment set up in true encore fashion, leading them to play another few songs including Shipping Up To Boston and Skinhead On The MBTA, which prompts an all-male stage invasion this time round. Apart from a few sneaky girls who just made their way up their too, I saw ya...
All in all, the Dropkick Murphys put on a helluva show and turned the Mandela into a proper Irish knees-up. Not bad for a bunch of Americans. The audience tonight was truly diverse as well, plenty of punks with mohawks, plenty of drunken students with their novelty wigs and plenty of older trad/folk fans too, all together to enjoy the craic. And I think it's safe to say that tonight, they'd all agree that the craic was ninety.