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Dropkick Murphys in Vicar Street on January 13th 2013

There comes a point when you have to ask yourself what Frank Turner does wrong in Ireland. Sure, he’s fairly quintessentially English, which is never likely to be a plus, and his politics – whilst hardly controversial unless you happen to be of a real conservative leaning – reflects that, but the man played to millions as a pre-show part of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and has headlined venues twice the size of our own O2 back home. More important than the popularity, he’s really good at what he does: passionate, lyrically leftfield and lovably intense live. Not that tonight’s a particularly great example, but Ireland doesn’t want for them.

Support slots might, in fact, be part of the problem. While Turner’s own fanbase are used to the vocalist’s gallivanting lyrical journeys and life-spanning lyrics, thrown in front of someone else’s crowd he tends to turn a little too cheesy. It has the dual effect of evoking a little more interest than he might otherwise get through some slightly forced-feeling sing-a-longs, and reducing the impact of what he does so well. Tonight’s not a great Turner set – in truth his highs have tended to come with the momentum of a full band in the past, anyhow – but tracks like the outstanding ‘Peggy Sang the Blues’ and ‘The Road’ are still Billy Bragg meets pop enough to show just how special he can be.

Tonight is the second consecutive night at Vicar Street for Dropkick Murphys, and if taxi drivers who witnessed its outpouring are to believed, the first wasn’t too far short of a riot (we even heard the words riot police, but we suspect he may have been exaggerating). Even seventeen years and eight albums after their formation, the Bostonians do tend to evoke a reaction, and tonight’s clear attempts to do something different to the night before, music wise, is impressive in itself.

As usual, the front few rows are certain to be aggressively boisterous. Crowd surfing kicks off a few tracks in, with fists raised to the sky, whiplash mohicans swinging and shirts flying across the room at pace. Traditional opener The Boys Are Back kicks off proceedings, before tonight’s set wallows in some of the better-known trad adaptations the Murphys are known for, prompting huge shout-alongs to the likes of Fields Of Athenry, The Irish Rover and The Gangs All Here.

Al Barr leads the charge,  stomping maniacally about the stage and pausing briefly to pose over a wedge and or dive headfirst into the heart of a crowd going heavy on backing vocals. Tracks from newbie ‘Signed & Sealed In Blood’ aren’t too liberally scattered and – to our ears – make up the weakest corners of the set, but perhaps that’s just a lack of familiarity. Other than monster hit I’m Shipping Up To Boston – a guaranteed chaotic crowd-pleaser – the mellower tones of Don’t Tear Us Apart and End Of The Night offer a break and a little balance.

All in, it’s pretty much true to form: there’s little about tonight that makes it stand out next to the sensational show the Murphys put on in the Olympia a couple of years back, but equally it has that same driving energy and evocative nationalism that divides opinion so much, and it’s hard to deny they have an impressive set nailed down. The stage invasion is becoming a little tired at this stage, though a cover of AC/DC’s T.N.T. after traditional set closer Skinhead on the MTBA does work well with an entire stage of moshing fans as a backdrop. We’ve seen better from the Murphys, but that Olympia show was nothing short of sensational. Tonight they’re more than good enough to justify the ticket price, and let’s be fair, not every night can be such a high.

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Photos: Kieran Frost