We Reviewed Dropkick Murphys, Manchester. What Happened?

While Manchester is a city blessed with a plethora of venues of varying shapes, styles and sizes, few, if any, inspire groans of annoyance more than seeing a band playing Victoria Warehouse. Something of a soulless multi-purpose events spaces a stone’s throw from Salford Quays, it’s the same size as the Apollo across the city, though lacks all of that venue’s history and indeed charm.

It’s something of a surprise then, that tonight feels different from previous shows we’ve attended here. It doesn’t feel over capacity, a small hiccough regarding passes is quickly resolved and the bar queues, if not the prices, are reasonable. Could it be that venue bosses are starting to pay attention to the complaints leveled at the place regularly? It seems so, though a good atmosphere certainly helps its cause, and tonight, as with any Dropkick Murphy’s gig, it’s both warm and infectious.

We arrive inside following the quickly solved issue with passes towards the second half of main support Pennywise’s set. Something of punk royalty on a similar par to Bad Religion, the band have a vast back catalogue at their disposal, and though we catch only the set’s latter half, it’s clear that it spans their career. What’s not clear however, is the sound quality. With the mix sounding somewhat muddied from the bar at the back of the room, it’s difficult to discern exactly what the band are playing. This doesn’t deter those in the crowd front and centre from enjoying themselves though, as the unmistakeable signs of a mosh-pit make themselves known. It’s an impressive set marred by poor sound quality, but the likes of punk classics such as ‘Fuck Authority’ and ‘Bro Hymn’ make for an entertaining close to the set.

Not wanting to suffer through another Victoria Warehouse show with little view and poor sound, we make our way forward, pints clutched firmly in hand as the familiar chants of ‘Let’s Go Murphys!’ ring out around the room. First a ripple, then a roar, then the band take to the stage and any chanting is lost in the deafening yells that greet Ken Casey and co.

Touring in support of their most recent album, This Machine Still Kills Fascists, a collection of Woodie Guthrie songs set to the band’s own arrangements, one might be forgiven for thinking this tour would be a little more serious than the band’s usual antics. That couldn’t be further from the truth. An early yet rousing rendition of ‘The Boys are Back’ puts any worries at bay, while an equally anthemic ‘Middle Finger’ feels more like a rallying cry than a punk song.

Elsewhere, tracks from the new album, and there are surprisingly few of them, fit in perfectly besides more established tracks; Guthrie’s ethos matching perfectly with that of the band’s. One track even being dedicated to the rail workers currently striking across the UK. A nice and welcome touch that’s bolstered by the inclusion of ‘The Worker’s Song’ later down the line. It’s also this point that sees the band invite the first guest on stage, with support band the Rumjacks frontman Mike Rivkees taking up vocal duty.

Of course, if it all feels a little political up to now, there’s plenty of the beer-soaked irreverence we’ve come to expect from a Dropkick Murphys show. The ridiculous ‘Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding’ gets a surprise airing, while fan-favourite ‘Barroom Hero’ finds the venue in full voice and sees follow Bostonian Jesse Ahern join the band on stage.

From here on out, we’re in crowd please territory for the duration. The lilting ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya’ sees a circle pit open in the middle of the crowd, and feels like a call-to-arms that’s become a staple of the band’s live shows. A surprise cover of Ewan McColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’ whips the crowd into woozy, boozy frenzy as beers are spilled and strangers are hugged. By now, the band have the crowd in the palm of their hand, and an anthemic outing for ‘I’m Shopping Up To Boston’ closes out the main set and leaves the crowd at fever pitch.

The familiar chant once again echoes around the room as the crowd wait for the inevitable encore. They don’t have to wait long. Emerging to another deafening roar, the band waste little time in launching into ‘Rose Tattoo’, spawning arguably one of the biggest singalongs of the evening. It’s followed by The Pogue’s-like ‘Dirty Glass’ which sees Californian country musician Jamie Wyatt return to the stage for the second time that evening. A woozy an somewhat entertaining lament on a failed relationship, it’s not often the band get to do it live, and it goes down a storm before an anarchic and glorious ‘Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced’ sees strangers arm in arm, belting back lyrics to the band on stage. It’s been ten years since we last saw Dropkick Murphys. We sure as hell won’t leave as long again.

📸 Photo: Martyn Coppack