Known for their frantic live performances, Celtic punk rock legends the Dropkick Murphys will visit Houston this weekend on their annual St. Patrick’s Day tour. Fans can expect a sordid, sweaty affair brimming with positivity and Boston pride.
Ahead of their visit, drummer Matt Kelly found time to speak with the Houston Press about his band, their charity and a recent collaboration with a brewery near their hometown.
As Kelly recalls it, the band’s first St. Patrick’s Day gig was in 1997 at the Rathskeller, a now-defunct venue in Boston that is often referred to as the “granddaddy” of rock venues in the region. Since then, the punk quartet has grown into a seven-piece and lengthened its 45-minute sets to an hour and a half.
“The set list has grown substantially,” Kelly says. “We play about 27 songs a night — give or take — and we change the set list almost every night, being sure the evening is different from the last time we came through, as well as different from nearby gigs we’ve played.
“The 90-minute format allows the set list to have musical and emotional peaks and valleys, whereas early on it was half-an-hour to 40 minutes to squeeze in as many songs as possible – often at breakneck speeds.”
On tour in support of their latest album, 2017’s 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, the Dropkick Murphys will also be promoting their charity, the Claddagh Fund, which was established to effect change in their community and to save the band from falling victim to fraudulent claims.
“Since we started gaining notoriety around Boston, we’ve been inundated with requests for playing benefits, donating merch to various causes, etc., all of which we’ve tried to honor,” Kelly says. “However, some charities are less honest than others, and a lot of times you don’t know where your money is going or whom you’re lending your band’s name to.”
So the band created the Claddagh Fund, with chapters in Boston and Philadelphia. Its goal is to promote causes the Dropkick Murphys feel are often overlooked: various drug and alcohol recovery programs, veteran’s programs and children’s charities.
“Having the Claddagh Fund, we know the money raised goes to the people most in need and it’s something we can feel good about,” Kelly says, adding that the foundation will have a booth at this weekend’s show and fans are welcome to stop by.
And, of course, the band's music has effected quite a bit of change and inspired countless fans over the course of nine studio albums. Their latest covers an array of heavy topics, including the Boston Marathon Bombing and the opiate epidemic in the Boston area. But Kelly doesn’t consider it a somber affair.
“I think the album had some of the most serious subject matter we’ve ever deigned to write about, ‘4/15/13’ especially, but I think the album as a whole has a lot more of an upbeat, party atmosphere than not.”
The group’s ability to discuss grave topics while pointing to hope and celebrating life has always been a selling point, one that is exemplified on “Paying My Way,” the sixth track on 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory.
“It’s about how when one is trying to achieve, to take little steps, make small victories, and just to stick with it,” Kelly says of the song. “You might not see big changes or successes as you’re achieving these small goals, but when you look back, you just might surprise yourself.”
Joining them at Revention Music Center are Agnostic Front and Bim Skala Bim, who last toured with the Dropkick Murphys in the late ‘90s.
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“It’s a pretty special tour being able to hang with old friends and road warriors again, and the musical diversity hearkens back to a time before theme tours or a homogenized punk scene,” Kelly says.
Die-hard fans will also be excited about the availability of the Barroom Hero Ale, a collaborative effort between the Dropkick Murphys and Magic Hat Brewery.
“It’s an English mild style ale, which is a rare bird indeed on this side of the pond, and at 4.2 percent ABV it’s pretty ‘crushable,’ ‘sessional,’ or whatever the beer-douche crowd calls a beer you can drink a few of without getting hammered,” Kelly says. “Also, proceeds go to the Claddagh Fund, so imbibe in good conscience.”
The Dropkick Murphys perform Saturday at Revention Music Center. Doors open at 7 p.m.