The hottest Easter Monday on record in the UK was about to get hotter. With Monster Truck playing across town, I’d opted for Dropkick Murphys while Ross covered their show. The Academy was warm when I arrived. It turned from sauna to steam room to sweatbath as the evening progressed!
Grade2 are a UK-based three piece, who were playing to a good crowd despite being on stage by the time I got to the venue. They were getting plenty of cheers between songs despite the sound being a bit mushy. Applause sounded like it was in a church hall, but well earned. It was difficult for them to move much hemmed in by another band’s drumkit and with vocals shared between the other two, so they were largely rooted to their mikes, which is a shame as their music definitely encourages movement.
A couple of new songs showed punk brashness and they weren’t shy or retiring in the slightest, ploughing almost non-stop through their set, making the most of the time to expose their music to a new audience.
Deservedly full of confidence, they went down very well for an opener.
I love an upright bass. I can always hear its rhythm more clearly than its brethren wielded by people who can’t manage to play guitar. The Devil Makes Three, it turns out, are an acoustic act featuring such a beast (played by a lovely lady who probably has the strongest plucking fingers in the Western hemisphere) as well as guitars and banjos. As such they have a very country or bluegrass sound, much less in your face than the opening act.
A bad thing? Not at all. By now the venue was rammed and a quick glance around showed hundred enraptured by the simple rhythms and harmonised vocals from all four members. That partial cover of “War Pigs” though… How an audience responds to a drum beat and some lyrics. Wow! And when a man starts playing a fast bit on a banjo you know what to do. You clap, dammit!
In a way they were a perfect support for the headliners. You should always warm up and stretch gently before going full tilt, and TDM3 definitely encouraged a mild rock and gentle roll. Enough to get you happy and ready without using up energy you’d need later.
In three words: absolutely fucking brilliant. The reason you should turn up for the support bands are surprises like this.
Bang on 9:30, the big curtain dropped and Dropkick Murphys bounded onto stage, introduced by a lone piper. With four stringed instruments, drums, two vocalists and some forays into pipes and accordions, there’s no denying that they have one of the more varied sounds you’ll find at live folk/punk show.
They wasted no time in throwing down some fast-paced, jig-inducing tunes and didn’t even stop to talk to the crowd until, I think, four songs in. And that was about two sentences before all hell broke loose again. Barr and Casey prowl the stage, leaning into the audience when it’s their time to lead the vocal performance, back and forth like the well-honed double-act they are.
Despite the large ensemble, everyone got their time to shine with Tim Brennan in particular taking the opportunity to mount the extended stage for a couple of rock star solos. He was supposed to ride our resident Pit Troll into battle late in the show, but apparently one of the house security didn’t want to let them play. Boo!
Very little time was spent talking to the audience, but with nine albums and a potential setlist from them spanning several hours, the band focused on chucking out song after song at typically high tempo. Highlights? Wow, well “Irish Rover” for a start. Neither man nor beast (plenty of both in the pit tonight including our own Pit Troll) would be holding onto their beer for this one – pint pots flew skywards and dancing commenced.
A Greek couple got engaged on stage (congratulations!) before “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which featured some of the loudest audience singing I’ve ever heard at this or any other venue. “The Boys Are Back” early on the set and “First Class Loser” later… And then the absolute chaos of the final two songs as a couple of dozen crowd members were invited on stage. Check out our video!
These days it takes more than playing your songs loud to create a good live show. You need excitement, fun, engagement… And Dropkick Murphys had these in spades. While they didn’t speak a lot during the set, they ensured the audience were part of the show throughout each song.
Suffice it to say I left with a huge grin on my face and very glad I’d tolerated the rather warm venue for tonight’s performance. Oh, and if you’re a Latvian Computer Science student at Strathclyde University – good luck with that Databases exam!
Photos from the London show by Luis Rodrigues