In a 2016 episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank falls out of a second story window and suffers a massive head injury. As a result, he thinks it’s 2006. When I saw that Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys were going on tour together, I had to check my own skull for any egregious wounds because there was no way it was 2017. Finding none and confirming with my calendar that this was indeed the correct year, I decided the only proper response was for my 31-year-old self to get excited about the “From Boston to Berkeley Tour.” In the spirit of 2006, I got ready for the show like I used to, which meant I looked up set lists from the tour so far and made playlists based on them. The biggest difference this time around was that I didn’t have to use them as the soundtrack while I drove over an hour into Chicago proper. Instead I used them on an equally long public transit trek out to god damn Northerly Island.
Opening the night was guitarist and vocalist of Stiff Little Fingers, Jake Burns. He played a solo set of select songs from the band’s catalog. I arrived halfway through Jake’s set, due to the numerous construction delays that summer in the city always seems to bring. I was bummed to learn that I missed him opening with “Gotta Get Away” and “Nobody’s Hero.” I was able to catch Jake’s storytelling between songs about growing up in Ireland and having to leave when the IRA came looking for recruits. After 40 years of making music, Stiff Little Fingers songs have held up well and the fact that they are still relevant showcases Burns’ talent as a songwriter and a musician.
The East Coast/Midwest leg of this tour was fortunate enough to also see New Jersey’s Bouncing Souls. One of my favorite things about this band is that, no matter what slot they are playing, they cram in as many songs as possible. This time around, they ripped through fifteen songs which just about covered every one of their albums. Of course, they were heavy on How I Spent My Summer Vacation tracks, as they always have been since the album was released. I always figured that Bouncing Souls were incapable of not playing “Manthem” in a set. But it was skipped the last few times I saw them. That changed tonight and I was glad to see it back and at the head of the set. The energy was high both on stage and in the crowd. This could have been a real softball for the band, given their age and the audience, but the Bouncing Souls brought it and reminded me yet again how many things there are to love about them.
Apparently Dropkick and Rancid have been alternating headlining duty because, much to the surprise of myself and fellow photographers, Rancid was next. At this stage in the game, it’s hard to imagine the band putting together a bad mix of songs. Seeing Rancid nowadays is like seeing Bad Religion or any other high profile punk band; you know that there are certain songs that you will hear every time you see them. As someone who finds themselves liking their new albums less and less, I am fine with this. Of the twenty songs in their set, only five were from the last three records and four of those were from this year’s release, Trouble Maker. I’ve been trying to like that album. But, other than the fact that it definitely sounds like Rancid, there isn’t much else I can say about it. The new stuff fit in fine and it was nice to see people still getting amped up nine albums in. But I was way more excited about gems like “Dead Bodies,” “Old Friend,” and “Bloodclot.” I’ve yet to have a bad time at a Rancid show. Most of that is almost certainly filtered through nostalgia, but it’s the part of me that still feels a need to appeal to teenage aspirations which keeps me coming back for more. Combine that with the fact that the band kills it onstage and is clearly still having the best time playing together and you’ve got a recipe for a great time. That and Tim’s beard. I hope to one day see it simply engulf the entire front row.
There was a mass exodus of Rancid fans following their set. I had to work the next day, so I understand the appeal of leaving early. Considering how much I listened to both bands growing up and how excited I was to finally see them together, I was amazed to see so many others leaving. But, according to people I talked to, it’s fairly common for there not to be much crossover appeal. A band’s shitty fans can put a damper on a good show, but every time I’ve seen Dropkick Murphys expecting to have a bad time, I am pleasantly surprised. They put a lot of heart and energy into their performances. There aren’t many bands who can make a living playing Celtic-inspired punk. But they not only do it, but do a great job. While most of their set revolved around newer material, the deeper cuts (like with Rancid) such as “The Gauntlet,” “Curse of a Fallen Soul,” and medley of songs from Do or Die were what I looked forward to.
The real treat was the encore when most of Rancid and Dropkick (including both bassists, because why not?, joined each other onstage for a handful of cover songs. I was so ready to skip this; I knew that it was going to take me forever to get home. But I watched the first song and I’m glad I did. The two bands sounded so much better together than I would have ever expected. I ended up staying for the whole thing. Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Sham 69, and the Crickets were no surprises, as neither band has made their influences a secret. With both Rancid and Dropkick both well into their 20-something years as bands, it’s cool to see them finding innovative ways to have fun doing what they love. While none of them are currently making my favorite music anymore, they did at one point, and it’s always worth celebrating that. Fingers crossed that next time there will be fewer stabbings. It’s already hard enough to convince my parents to let me go out to shows during the week.