Tracie Goudie

November 19, 2008

Irish eyes; Williams, sister; Wax figures

Saturday, Nov. 22
For the record, Al Barr’s not Irish, and he doesn’t live in Massachusetts. But he has brought a lot of pride and partying to music fans of both persuasions. For more than a decade, Boston’s Dropkick Murphys (named for a bit of local lore centering on alcohol rehab) have grown in stature from regional phenom to cult icons known throughout the nation.

The band’s a fast-slamming septet that plays punked-up arrangements of traditional Irish ballads, originals of the same vein and the odd cover (those work best when their bagpipe player Scruffy is brought front and center).

Of course, the legacy got a good jolt when, about the same time, the Red Sox won the World Series with a DM song as their anthem, and Martin Scorsese centered the soundtrack to his Oscar winner “The Departed” around the DM track “(I’m) Shipping Up to Boston.”

Regarding the latter, lead singer Barr says the song was one of two adapted from unfinished songs by Woody Guthrie. The Murphys’ serious working-class leanings drew the attention of Guthrie’s grandson, who wanted to see new artists finish and record some of the material. After Wilco and Billy Bragg did right by the project, Barr says, “We were given access to his archives and went through and found ‘Blackout,’” referring to the title track of their 2003 release.

“That’s also when we found the scribbled napkin paper that had the words to ‘Shipping Up to Boston.’ It carries on the tradition. This is the Dropkick Murphys. We’re a punk-rock band with folk roots. And even though there’s a lot of Irish influence, we’re an American band. And who better than to have the grandfather of American folk music be involved in this band.”

The Dropkick Murphys come to Coyote’s at City Block (116 W. Jefferson St., 589-FUNN) on Saturday with openers Angel City Outcasts and Everybody Out. Doors open at 5 p.m., and tickets for the all-ages show are $25.

The road’s been rewarding for Barr and band, but there are a variety of prices to pay. For instance, when the bagpipes break: “For the cost of a good pair of bagpipes, you could probably buy three to four guitars … you can’t play them anymore, you gotta get it fixed … (because) you start stabbing people with the broken ends …”

But also, this band charges hard into their set, and they tour frequently, which eventually wears out some members. Right after the release of the band’s newest disc The Meanest of Times, the lead guitarist signed off.

Not that it slowed these guys down: “We’ve probably done eight tours with the newest member … We’ve been through many, many lineup changes. It’s not like Bon Jovi … it’s all about the band Dropkick Murphys. It isn’t about one person. As long as it’s happening, I think that’s all that the fans care about.”

Sunday, Nov. 23
Dar Williams has always been able to write and sing her own unique form of folkie pop-rock.

She can get more of modern folk into a song, but at the same time, she glues you to the jangly pop smarts of the arrangements and performance.

She can do up disillusion from any number of blindingly clear perspectives, and it’s hummable, but you never think she overdoes the cheeriness, unless it’s a moment designed to nail a sharp, ironic point.

Promised Land is classic Williams: a rock-out opener that demands immediate multiple listens to absorb the lyrical layering. Then with the body of the album come a mix of tempos, all of it highly enjoyable, with highlights that become indelible. “Buzzer” takes less than three minutes to put the listener thoroughly into the shoes of one of the subjects of the 1960s Milgram psychological experiments.

“The stakes were high,” she says of how people were made to face their own potential for obeying an authoritative instruction to inflict pain on another.

“The experiments were repeated in 2005 … the fact
that the results were the same is what, I think, made me shift whether or not I thought I would obey. The fact is, people obey. It’s something we have to deal with in our nature.”

Williams deals by delivering powerful musical hooks, and sharing a ready empathy with her audience. Both will be on hand Sunday at Clifton Center (2117 Payne St.), with Katie Herzig as the opener. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., admission is $25.

Wednesday, Nov. 26
Wax Fang has got to be psyched about getting their great La La Land out nationally. Or maybe it’s driving them a little meshugeneh, given their recent images … the trio dripping in primary-color paints one minute, then it’s on to drag from bygone eras.
We’ll see how colorful they get for the holidays when they play Thanksgiving Eve at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088). Openers are Black Diamond Heavies and Adventure. Tickets are $10, show starts at 9 p.m.