Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, and The Bronx tore-up Grinders in signature style

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Rancid and Dropkick Murphys at Grinders KC on August 11, 2021. // Photo by Chris Ortiz

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Wednesday night’s August 11 date of the Boston To Berkeley II tour at Grinders KC was the first proper-venue punk show in Kansas City since March 2020.

At least 1,000 punk rock fans (maybe somewhere around or above 2,000; it was hard to tell—the venue was crowded but tickets were not sold out, making it fewer than 3,000) returned to the wood chip backyard to see the sequel to the 2017 co-headlining tour of Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. I assumed that Dropkick Murphys would be closing out the night (their name was on the left side of the flyer, they’ve had more pop culture placements, they’ve had an album go gold, and they’ve had three albums chart in the top 10), but it made enough sense to have Rancid play last—they’ve been around five years longer and have gone both gold and platinum, despite no top 10 albums.

But enough of the numbers. What matters is that both bands played for 60 minutes each and demonstrated that neither their combined 55 years as bands nor the pandemic have robbed them of their abilities to put on a kickass live show.

Initially, I was a bit worried about being let down by Rancid, considering the peak years of my fandom were in my middle adolescence and that plenty of bands don’t age well. Though I’m hard-pressed to find a particular clip, I had also convinced myself that guitar/vocalist Tim Armstrong’s voice, which had always been a bit difficult to decipher, was in decline.

These fears peaked when Armstrong walked out on stage following clean-cut skinhead guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksenwith a newly-dreaded beard. Seconds into the band’s opening song “Radio,” however, these fears quickly melted away and I knew I was in for a treat. 

Also noteworthy: the band walked out to Toots and The Maytals’ “54-46 Was My Number.” Toots Hibbert passed away during the pandemic, so it felt just, considering how important reggae and ska are to the band’s sound. Toots and The Maytals last played Kansas City at Grinders in May 2019.

Following “Radio”—a melodic punk love letter to the reliable comforts of music, a fitting way to start a set on the second show of the band’s first tour back—the band blasted through four songs back-to-back from their classic …And Out Come The Wolves. “Roots Radicals” and “Maxwell Murder” prompted the rowdiest push-pitting of the set (drinks were sent flying) and bassist Matt Freeman nailed his solo on the latter, which still makes my head spin nearly a decade after first hearing it.

Freeman’s other moment in the spotlight, later in the set, saw him showing off his vocal talents, think punk rock Louis Armstrong, on “Tenderloin,” the band’s take on one of San Francisco’s seedier locales. Frederiksen of Freeman before the song’s start: “He likes his drinking, his smoking, and his whoring.”

“Old Friend” was dedicated to Kansas City’s own Rico Dejoie. The beloved DJ, Boss Vintage shop owner, and New York punk scene transplant’s name was chanted by the crowd before any band member could ask them to. The song’s infectious ska bubble organ rhythm was handled by Tim Brennan of Dropkick Murphys who’s doing double duty on this tour. 

Though the song is known to reference Armstrong’s divorce from The Distillers’ Brody Dalle, pre-encore set closer “Fall Back Down” fostered the tangible feeling of unity one can experience at a concert (and very few other places). You couldn’t have asked for much more from some of the Bay Area’s favorite punk rock troubadours.

Whereas Rancid’s setlist was career-spanning but focused on the classics, Dropkick Murphys made the risky decision of pulling nine songs of their 17 song set from their latest album, Turn Up That Dial, released this past April. Lots of musicians favor their most recent work simply because they’ve grown tired of the old stuff, but luckily, the new music from America’s favorite Celtic punk band rivals their most well-known.

After a rousing rendition of “The Boys Are Back” to kick things off (not an untrue statement) came three new songs: “L-EE B-O-Y” (written in secret for the band’s bagpipe player), the new album’s title track, and “Middle Finger” (a lighthearted tune about every punk’s favorite digit).

Later on, other new tracks included thoughtful reflections on reaching middle age as a punker and still feeling the urge to rebel, somehow, someway (“Smash Shit Up”) and one saluting girlfriends past (“Queen Of Suffolk County”)—one of the band’s two vocalists noted these women were tougher than any one of the boys.

Despite seeing the band nearly a decade ago at the Beaumont Club and listening to them occasionally since, I had forgotten that both Ken Casey and Al Barr share vocal duties and wield no other instruments. I spent a moment asking myself why having both of them was necessary, but it soon became clear that Barr’s and Casey’s vocals cover two distinct registers and often have a surprisingly dynamic interplay. It also helps to have three musicians in the band that are essentially utility players.

While the band was given the audience’s full attention during the new material, earlier hits and favorites like “The State Of Massachusetts,” “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya,” and “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” were, as one could have been predicted, the ones that really lit the place up. “Citizen C.I.A.”—an anti-imperialist hardcore song from fan-favorite The Warrior’s Code—became a personal favorite of mine in its brief 90 seconds.

Not only in the band’s sound—via its use of bagpipes, mandolins, banjos, and other instruments unorthodox to most punk bands— but in its songwriting is the tradition of Irish folk music carried on. Nearly every song mythologizes and memorializes the band’s friends, family, hometown of Boston, and hometown heroes. Don’t let anyone tell you tradition can’t be a beautiful thing.

Due to the band’s proud displays of its Irish-American heritage, it wouldn’t have been surprising if an aggressive, booze-heavy St. Patrick’s Day aura overshadowed the performance—I remember that Beaumont show being quite chaotic—but it seemed like most of those in attendance were simply happy to be experiencing live music again, maybe a bit older and generally less rowdy than they were a decade ago.

Los Angeles quintet The Bronx kicked things off promptly at 7 P.M., playing a 45-minute set of mid-paced punk rock with a healthy dose of hard rock flair. The band’s crude sense of humor and head-banging, party-friendly style (singer Matt Caughthran noticed the yard’s wood chips and called us “punk rock hamsters,” told us the band was having their collective “Grinders cherry popped,” and later flipped off the V.I.P. patio) is as clear a product of the aughts as any. If their music wasn’t featured on an episode of Jackass or Viva La Bam or in an extreme sports video game, the band’s management fucked up.

I didn’t care much for the band when I saw them open for Bad Religion back in 2013. I think, as an angsty teenager who had never really partied, I was more excited to witness Bad Religion’s anti-religious screeds. But now, as I attempt to scrape together the remnants of what was supposed to be a Hot Vax Summer, endangered by the Delta variant, I was more than happy to bask in the noisy, precise, and largely apolitical oeuvre of The Bronx.

Categories: Music