LIVE: Shamrock-N-Roll Festival @ Altamont Fairgrounds, 9/11/11
Boston-based, working class, punk band Dropkick Murphys’ inaugural Shamrock-N-Roll Festival barreled into the Altamont Fairgrounds last Sunday (September 11) for the second date of the tour, and the band brought with them a cavalcade of high-energy Celtic-rock performers; Stiff Little Fingers, Street Dogs, Chuck Ragan, the Mahones, Big Bad Bollocks and the Parkington Sisters, in what promised to be a rowdy Guinness-soaked, musical free-for-all.
It turned out to be the perfect day for the event. Cool temperatures, mostly sunny skies, the spacious fairgrounds and a cool vibe all combined to make for a top-notch festival filled with great music and a lot of camaraderie amongst the crowd and performers. The bands alternated between two stages that were setup side-by-side which gave the second stage acts even more exposure as the crowd stayed focused in one area rather than having to dash back and forth between distanced setups and really kept things moving with virtually non-stop live music.
Canadian Celtic-punk rockers the Mahones, led by Finny McConnell, kicked off the event on the main stage with a fine set of guitar, tin whistle and accordion driven rock finishing up with the rousing “Drunken Lazy Bastard” that morphed into the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” which was the first of many of the afternoons tributes to the golden age of punk. Would love to see these guys and gal back in town as a headliner at some point.
Next up on the side stage, in what proved to be their first appearance of the day, were the Parkington Sisters, the most eclectic group of the event. Four sisters on violin, viola, accordion, sometimes acoustic guitar and a single, booming floor tom combining Irish folk with soaring four part harmonies and included both a Radiohead cover and a countryfied take on the Cash classic “Ring Of Fire” in their set.
The Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” blasted from the main stage speakers supplying the opening fanfare for the Street Dogs. Former Dropkick frontman/fireman/EMT Michael McColgan led his Boston-based punks onstage firing up the crowd and creating the first dust-filled mosh pit of the festivities. Encouraging the crowd to “get some air” while pogoing along to “Two Angry Kids” and to raise their cups while singing along to “Toby’s Gotta Drinking Problem,” the Dogs ratcheted up the energy and decibel level and paid a fitting tribute to our armed services and first responders with the heartfelt “Final Transmission” and gave their nod to the “only band that matters” by dropping the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” on the crowd. Great band with some real cool merch to boot!
Big Bad Bollocks, no strangers to these parts and probably a main stage act on this tour if not for the last minute addition of Stiff Little Fingers, served up the requisite fast, hard Irish folk-inflected sing-alongs pleasing those who were there for exactly that. Big Bad Fun!
The Dropkick Murphys scored a major coup with the late addition of first generation Belfast punks Stiff Little Fingers to the tour. Influenced directly by the early Clash shows they saw, SLF’s ferocious attack, uncompromising political stance and first-hand accounts of life during the height of “the troubles” in Ireland, made them the real deal … and the band U2 really wanted to be. (If you need proof compare SLF’s “Johnny Was” from their 1979 debut to “Seconds” off of U2’s 1982 “War” album.)
Stiff Little Fingers are not so much an Irish punk band in the sense of traditional instruments, like the DKM’s and the Pogues. Instead they are a guitars-drums-and-bass punk band, however they definitely pay tribute to their heritage through their experiences in Belfast and their driving rock-folk tales. Their first three studio albums are classics in the genre. From the explosive opening blast of their incendiary debut, “Inflammable Material,” to their second stunning long-player, “Nobody’s Hero,” to the incredible power-pop of their third and perhaps best album, “Go For It,” SLF bridge straight-ahead punk fury with swinging reggae groove and dueling guitar-heavy pop, in the process mapping out the blueprint for future bands such as Rancid. The intensity was still intact on each record as they continued to rail against the man, but the music matured, becoming more melodic with every new release.
Right after putting out the underrated “Now Then” album they disbanded for a few years, but in the late ’80s SLF leader/singer/guitarist Jake Burns reformed the group and continues to fly the flag, soldiering on with various lineups, touring and recording albums, including 2004’s return to top-form “Guitar and Drum.” Seeing pioneering figures in music is getting rarer these days and having SLF on this bill promised to be a treat. Expectations were high, and we were not disappointed!
Burns and his latest incarnation of SLF wasted no time in hitting it out of park. Jumping right into the opening track from “Go For It,” the skanking “Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae,” the band blasted through arguably the best songs of their catalog. “At the Edge”, the brilliant “Nobody’s Hero,” the Specials’ laid back reggae number “Doesn’t Make it All Right” and Jake’s own musical tribute to the late-great Clash frontman, “Strummerville,” were all played with the precision of a band who has been at it for years, but also with the commitment and intensity of a man who still believes very much in the cause and the power of punk!
While introducing the song “Wasted Life” Jake told the story of one young man who was ready to join a radical faction during “the day” but changed his mind after hearing this song. That alone – turning one person from a life of violence – “made it all worth it.” This was followed by the equally poignant “Tin Soldiers,” and the band wrapped up an awesome, inspiring set with two of their earliest and punchiest singles, “Suspect Device” and the pogoing call to action “Alternative Ulster.” Thanks Jake for reigniting the flame in this old punk’s soul! Again, Brilliant.. simply Brilliant! And yes, U2 became one of the most popular and richest bands in the world, but they never became Stiff Little Fingers… and they never will.
It was singer/songwriter Chuck Ragan who provided the side-stage entertainment between the headlining acts with a gritty performance featuring songs from his new album “Covering Ground.” Similar in style to, say, the acoustic dark side of Bruce Springsteen, perhaps Mike Ness or lesser known troubadour Ricky Warwick, Chuck was joined at the end of the set by the Parkington Sisters who provided backing vocals. Good stuff.
But alas as the sun set and the stage lights came up for the first time, it was time for Dropkick Murphys to deliver the passionate hardcore that the young punks had been waiting for. Coming on under cover of a barrage of white light, bagpipes and gunfire, the band turned it up full throttle from the get-go and only briefly let up from the rousing assault they pummeled all the willing masses with. With the Parkington Sisters expanding the band on a lot of songs with three violins and accordion, the Murphys motored through the likes of “The Fighting 69th” and “The Hardest MIle” paying tribute along the way to both their union brethren (“Take The Bastards Down,” “Boys On The Docks”) while mentioning the recent Verizon strike, and, of course, the fallen heroes of 9/11. During the song “Cruel,” they displayed a FDNY shirt and, taking off their hats and asking for a moment of silence in remembrance of that fateful day 10 years ago, bassist-singer Ken Casey pointed out there being “only a few morons in the crowd” who shouted out during that moment. “A moment of silence means shut the fuck up!” After a stirring bagpipe intro, they then blasted into a breakneck version of “Amazing Grace”.
Noticing one mosh pit confrontation getting a bit heated the band asked that if those involved could put “petty bullshit aside.” After all, “we are all friends here” and being 911, “can’t you go back to kicking the shit out of each other tomorrow?” They then decided to settle it down by sitting down to play four acoustic songs starting with the “Devils Brigade.” Thing is even the Dropkick Murphys “acoustic” versions still have a ton of rockin’ energy and bite, so things mellowed a bit, but still kept the pace of the show going.
Of course, bringing it down meant only one thing, bringing it way back up, and that they did. “The Dirty Glass” with guest Nora Parkington sharing lead vocals (this tour was getting their money’s worth out of these girls), the title cut from their latest album; “Going Out In Style” and, of course, the song that brought DKM more exposure than any other, through the movie the Departed, “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” all brought the faithful into a friendly frenzy towards the end of the set.
The band left the stage to “My Way” being crooned over the PA, of course leaving the crowd wanting more, so they obliged and came back filling the stage with ladies from the audience to help them with the barroom sing-along “Kiss Me I’m Shtifaced”. Fitting, as throughout the day, you got the feeling that the crowd was as much a part of the event as the bands were. Everyone coming together, tattoos, cabbie caps and rock & roll. With a bit of the Irish! A great start to what we hope will be a long running tradition!
Review by Tim Livingston
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Michael Seinberg