Even if you forgot that St. Patrick's Day was coming, the concert calendars should've Paul Revered you with the Celtic-punk invasion of the Dropkick Murphys at House of Blues and the Real McKenzies at Backbooth that descended upon Orlando in a 24-hour period.
Dropkick Murphys, House of Blues, March 8
I've seen Dropkick Murphys numerous times but it's been years, possibly a decade. In that time, they haven't simply gotten bigger, they've woven themselves deeper into the rich American musical tapestry, going from hardcore hooligans to folk heroes as Boston's rock & roll laureates.
I never really forgot how primary their appeal is. This show, however, was a forceful and triumphant reminder. Their songs are nothing if not emotionally straightforward. They're guilelessly obvious in a way that – like, say, love or parenthood – always feels clichéd to write about. But when you're there face to face, feeling it with all senses, well, it becomes viscerally universal. Besides, the Murphys are all about heart, not art. Their blue-collar music's got ethos and soul, and is populist in ways far more authentic and virtuous than the people who co-opt the stance for politics. And they do it loud, proud and with maximum pageantry. Their depiction of the majesty and heroism of the working class in anthem after ringing anthem has made them icons of America's up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant culture, the one that the Right loves to downplay. Also they've been known to beat some Nazi ass onstage.
What further bodes well for their legacy is that they've shown a remarkable ability to age. They've become a multi-generational phenomenon positioned to become a heritage act. What was once a boys' night out is now a family affair. Kids were everywhere at the concert, in the crowd and even onstage. They brought up 10-year-old Floridian Teagan Lynch to sing on their classic duet "The Dirty Glass." According to singer-bassist Ken Casey on video captured two nights earlier at the St. Pete show, she's the daughter of a friend (Gene Lynch) who actually tried out to be a singer for the Murphys back in the day and later relocated here.
For a socially conscious people's band like them, though, the Murphys did miss a big connective opportunity with Orlando as a fellow city of modern terrorist tragedy. But that's not a lapse in their show, just something that would've made for a truly historic moment. On all other counts, they brought their famous spirit with grand production to match.
Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz with Vagabon, Will's Pub, March 9
By sheer presence alone, the Crutchfield sisters practically own today's indie scene. Between Allison's work in Swearin' and Katie's as Waxahatchee, it's like they've been the twin prom queens of the underground for the last several years.
Now that her breakout band Swearin' has folded amid romantic collapse, Allison Crutchfield has officially embarked on a fresh solo career with the January release of her debut album on Merge Records. But fans of her late band need not lament. Crutchfield's solo material has the same distinctive and keening melodies as Swearin'. It just trades punk crunch for a broader emotional and instrumental palette. Musically, it's a blend of rock and electronics that weaves in her keyboards like an American college-rock interpretation of New Order's architecture. Most crucially, the clear, melodic vulnerability of Crutchfield's singing remains the cornerstone. Even with some rhythmic awkwardness with her live band the Fizz, Crutchfield's new vehicle features her furthest-reaching and most interesting sounds yet.
Just as auspicious was tourmate Vagabon, the budding solo vehicle of Cameroon-born New Yorker Lætitia Tamko that made a Florida debut amid some hot early word of mouth. Tamko only just emerged with her first LP less than three weeks ago, but she's already being aligned with the bright new class of women who aren't just practicing indie rock but furthering it. If you were at this show, you saw why.
Vagabon's rich music is a rock experience of power and beauty. The arrangements are smart and effective, but add in Lætitia Tamko's extraordinarily expressive voice and the result is both tender and crashing. More than that, it's ready. Look out for her.