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Everything Old Is New Again

What do punks the Dropkick Murphys have in common with soulful Norah Jones? More than you think.

Singer-songwriter Steve Young, a fine soloist but perhaps more famous for writing Waylon Jennings's "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road," once told me something profound about songwriting and popular music in general. "People aren't looking for something completely different," he said. "They want something like what they're used to with a little twist."

The truth of that declaration was proven at two wildly disparate shows on July 20. At the Vans Warped Tour, Boston-Irish folk-punkers Dropkick Murphys drew one of the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds of the day while playing their version of traditional Irish songs from a time long forgotten. Later that day, Norah Jones -- a young woman with a fresh voice and an old soul -- enthralled a sold-out Hobby Center with her patented mélange of country, blues and jazz. Same venerable songs, but with brand-new twists.

Seven-year-old Racket Junior accompanied me to the Warped Tour date, and as it turned out he was a little young for the event. He was wearing a Yu-Gi-Oh T-shirt and toting a Scooby-Doo backpack, crammed full with an album containing his entire collection of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. He also deemed it wise to bring a small toy telephone. Since he was so laden down and because the event was in a Reliant Center parking prairie and the heat index was well into the triple digits, he complained a lot. Racket tried to sell him on the event -- didn't that guy with what looked like a black agave plant on his head resemble a sort of anime character? He wasn't impressed.

Nor was he stirred by the skateboarders whirling in the air or the rock climbers -- nothing except the PlayStation booth caught his fancy. There, some kids were playing the Guy Ritchie-like smash-'em-up caper game The Getaway. "Is that the game where you steal cars?" he asked. Racket told him he was confusing The Getaway with Grand Theft Auto. "Yeah, Grand Theft Auto," he gushed. "That game's so cool. You run through these trees and kill lots of people."

Where does he get this stuff?

He wasn't knocked out by the bands either, so our trip was destined to be short. "I don't like crazy parties" was his verdict on the outing. He'll thank me one day…

While the legendary parties surrounding punk's origins were a much-needed reaction against corporate rock, it remains doubtful that this attitude has filtered down to today's suburban youth. Many of the Warped acts may have cussed a lot on stage and hollered about hacking your own way through the dense thicket of corporatism that is Bush the Younger's America, but off-stage that militant aspect was all but gone. Witness the expensive food and drink and myriad booths flogging everything from video games to shoes. All that was needed was an army recruitment booth to complete the illusion of a shopping mall sans air conditioning and dorky old folks' shops.

Luckily for Racket, because of the Warped Tour's lottery system that determines each band's showtime, the Dropkick Murphys took the stage at 2 p.m. The Reliant Center parking lot was hardly an ideal venue to catch them. Their anthemic, working-class Southie rock jarred with the tatty Sun Belt backdrop -- a Luther's and a Comfort Suites loomed just over the chain-link fence backstage. As they ripped through a rave-up of the venerable Irish folk ballad "Black Velvet Band," it occurred to me that it would sound and feel so much better in a dim and cool bar paneled with lots of dark wood, some place where there were only a couple of beers on tap, and Tullamore Dew and Jameson's the only hard stuff. Instead, they were on a prefab stage in a sweltering lake of concrete, where vendors peddled $8 light beers and banana-mango smoothies.

Not that many people seemed to care. The Murphys drew a vast horde of kids waving banners, crowd-surfing, swaying with their arms in the air and singing along. Dropkick Murphys aren't about shirking your responsibilities -- they're more in the Springsteen vein of working hard for an honest dollar and having as much fun as you can when you can. They aren't the McDonald's-vandalizing type -- instead, they're the guys down at the union hall changing the system from within. Their populist sympathies recently got them on the list (Wilco and Billy Bragg are two others) of current bands tapped to adapt Woody Guthrie lyrics by the late folkie's estate. It's a natural. What was Guthrie but America's first punk?

Speaking of, Woody would have been briefly proud of and then sorely disappointed by a scene Racket witnessed on his way out of the event. Some kids were refilling their Dasani water bottles from the Reliant sprinkler system, which was inanely watering shrubbery that evidently hadn't gotten drenched enough in the recent hurricane.

Now this was punk. The kids were alright. Go to it, dudes! Stick it to the man! Go spend that five bucks you just saved on some antiestablishment clothing or something.

A Reliant employee had other ideas. "Y'all quit drinking that water!" he hollered. "That stuff's not drinkable. It comes from a…uh…a pond!"

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