Dropkick Murphys Bring Insane Irish Punk Energy to the Aragon Ballroom
By Oscar De Leon
On Monday, September 30, the Aragon Ballroom hosted four hours of a unique blend of music, from folk to heavy metal to good old Irish punk. Four distinct and unique acts played that night, and each one elicited a different yet awesome response. The opening acts were all different and impressive, but everyone in the room was excited for the Dropkick Murphys. They are and will always be one of the most distinct, amazingly epic, and badass acts in live music. By the end of the night, I was drenched in sweat, beer, and euphoria.
Amigo the Devil
Folk musician Amigo the Devil opened with a short acoustic set. Upon taking the stage, people in the audience made snide comments about his banjo and yelled “Free bird!” Before beginning, he introduced himself and said he uses this time to let the audience “get it out of your system.” He clearly was not messing around, and his music proved that. Such passion for a solo acoustic act, in my opinion, is quite rare to see. Amigo the Devil really showed the audience just how badass the banjo can be. His roaring voice filled the venue and the small number of people in the audience paid attention. He was such a fantastic storyteller, and it was a shame that his set was the shortest. Tales of love and revenge were told. I surprisingly found myself enjoying this set a lot and I’d very much like to see him again. The highlight of the show was his song “I Hope Your Husband Dies.” While a horrible idea, I felt for the singer, and the audience laughed and sang along. His guitar playing and emotion reached me. Take these lyrics:
“Trust me, I'm not jealous, I'm just hoping that he really messes up,
I'm not so much afraid of letting go as much as scared of giving up,
And all the distance that we’ve spent apart will never have to mean a thing,
Cause every mile I travelled was to find the perfect stone to fit your ring,
And I, I,
Oh I, I,
Hope your husband dies,
I hope your husband dies”
Shortly after, the legendary hardcore metal band Hatebreed took the stage. On tour with a folk musician, a stoner rock band, and an Irish punk band, a band like Hatebreed really sticks out. Hatebreed incorporates sludgy heavy riffs and screaming lyrics that may seem unintelligible. They were undoubtedly the heaviest group that night. Despite my love for the band, they were out of place. Clearly, Hatebreed did not care. Opening with “To the Threshold,” they took the stage headbanging and screaming, nothing out of the ordinary. If this was a Hatebreed headlining show, there would be tons of moshing and jumping (an experience I hope to witness someday). That night, Hatebreed did not see much of that, despite their promising merchandise.
They looked and sounded amazing, but it was not much of a metal night. Again, they seemed not to care. They admitted how stoked they were to perform with the Dropkick Murphys and Clutch, and I’m very happy that I got to see them live. Halfway through their set, they told a story about their last time at the Aragon Ballroom and about how they believed they were banned due to the violence that occured when they opened for Slayer. Following this story, they asked for a gigantic circle pit to form. The ratio of Hatebreed fans to Dropkick Murphys/Clutch fans was very small, so only about 15-20 people were in this enormous circle pit. This made everyone a target, which made the moshing much more dangerous (and even more fun)! I saw a few people with those shirts and couldn’t help but notice how there wasn’t much to survive in the mosh pit. Their explosive and deafening set closed with “I Will Be Heard.” Come back to Chicago Hatebreed! It was only halfway through the night, and I was tired and sweating.
Clutch took the stage about 30 minutes later. To be honest, when I bought these tickets, I was only going for the Dropkick Murphys. I saw them in 2017 at Huntington Bank Pavilion with Rancid and that still remains one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, despite never having heard a single one of their songs. Similarly, Clutch was a band I had heard of but did not know any of their music. When they took the stage, all I could think was, “When are the Murphys coming on?” Thankfully I was shown just how awesome they are. I didn’t know the name or lyrics to any of their songs, but their stoner bluesy rock vibe and the moshing made their set worthwhile. On top of that, everyone that night was super friendly and considerate. The guitar work was incredibly bluesy and heavy. During their set, I kept trying to figure out what band they sounded like. Who could I compare them to when describing this band to other people? By the end of the set, I determined that they are one of a kind. One of the best things about being obsessed with music is being proven wrong and discovering something you never thought you’d listen to. I discovered two new artists and finally witnessed a metal band I’ve been wanting to see for some time. The worst part of that night was waiting for Dropkick Murphys.
At exactly 9:40 PM, the lights in the Aragon Ballroom went off and Sinéad Ó’Connor’s version of “The Foggy Dew” started playing. Suddenly, an anticipating audience witnessed the spotlight shines on a bagpiper who begins “Cadence to Arms,” which created the best segue into “The Boys Are Back.” For those wondering why the Aragon Ballroom is nicknamed the Brawlroom, let me tell you why. The moment singers Ken Casey and Al Barr took the stage, a sea of bodies start shoving and moshing around me like there’s no tomorrow. It’s moments like these, being crushed by and shoving fans that are as excited for the music as I am, that make me truly happy. The mosh pit is my home, and I’m sure it is for many of the Murphys fans that night. By their second song, “The Fighting 69th,” I was drenched in two flying beers. They still had a whole hour and fifteen minutes to play. One of the highlights was hearing them play “Out of Our Heads.” This experience was much more fun because I knew almost every song and the Aragon Ballroom is pretty much my second home. On top of that, Dropkick Murphys will be one of the most unique live acts you can ever see live! During “Out of Our Heads,” many people in the mosh pit started dancing in circles and one person even tried teaching me how to Irish step dance. The audience was blessed with two covers that night: “I Fought the Law” by The Crickets and “Just What I Needed” by The Cars (a tribute to Ric Ocasek). Other hits such as “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya,” “Prisoner’s Song,” and “Worker’s Song” were played. Every member on stage played their hearts out. Dropkick Murphys make playing the accordion seem so punk! The main set was closed with “Going Out In Style,” during which singer Ken Casey came out into the crowd and sang to us. People began to bumrush the barricade and made me feel like a sardine. All the while, throughout all the moshing and sweating, I was never bothered. No live act can create such intense comradery amongst strangers like Dropkick Murphys. It didn’t matter that I woke up the next morning with bruises I couldn’t remember getting. Even in the pit, whenever people fell, the pit would stop and they would be helped out. I’ve been to a number of shows in which that simple courtesy is denied (mostly modern rap shows). Punk is safe. Punk is liberating. Punk is badass!
Three songs were used for the encore: “Rose Tattoo,” “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” and “Until the Next Time.” Each of these songs will hold a special place in my heart due to the man who introduced the band to me, and I was beyond fortunate to experience the Murphys with him again. Never have I ever heard such a loud yell of drunken maniacs like I did when “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” came on. It was almost like a cry to war! As everyone ran to the barricade to make their way on stage, the audience never let up on the lyrics. Word after word was drunkenly screamed. At this point I felt like I wanted to die but I was determined to make it on stage. As they segued into “Until the Next Time,” my buddy made it onto stage but they didn’t let me on, which was a bummer but at least I was on the barricade. “Until the Next Time” is the perfect song to end the night with. I felt ecstatic and fulfilled. Drenched in sweat and not being able to walk right, all I could think was, “I can’t wait to see them again!” They have earned the title of punk legends. I cannot think of any other band that can make a bagpiper, a banjo player, and a headbanging accordion player seem so badass. I will always fondly remember that show.