One of the Boston area's first big music-related cancellations of this year's COVID-19 pandemic occurred shortly after the lockdowns started, when venerable Celt-punkers Dropkick Murphys had to scratch their annual set of St. Patrick's Day shows. They made up for it with "Streaming Up From Boston," a boisterous, if audience-free, live set on the March 17 holiday that would-be concertgoers and other fans could stream from their homes.
As is their wont, though, the Dropkicks decided to outdo themselves — and what better way to do so than to stream a live show from Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox and frequent blarer of their songs “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and “Tessie”? Oh, and why not have Bruce Springsteen (virtually) drop by for a couple of songs?
That was the concept behind “Streaming Outta Fenway,” the United States’ first large-scale concert in a major venue during this period. There’s definitely a surreal aspect to watching audience-free versions of events that normally command big crowds, and Friday night’s show was no exception. But the Dropkicks’ boundless energy and the fighting spirit of their music quickly made the park’s vast expanse seem if not like an intimate club, at least like a comfortable backyard where longtime friends get together for some energetic jamming and maybe a friendly round or two of batting practice.
After being played on (remotely) by Fenway organist Josh Kantor, the band, clad in home Sox jerseys and scattered around the infield, tore through a 28-song set, paying tribute to those affected by the pandemic, enthusing over the “DKM” and shamrock mowed into the field’s green, mugging for the cameras, and soliciting donations for Habitat for Humanity, Feeding America, and the Boston Resiliency Fund.
In the wake of the past 2 1/2 months’ tumult, the Dropkicks’ performance set a strikingly varied tone that felt utterly appropriate — defiant, raucous, gently sardonic, awestruck by the venue’s history and size, solemn about the pain endured by individuals and community members, but determined to soldier on. Leader Ken Casey honored those in the US and throughout the world who have lost their lives to COVID-19 with a short, heartfelt speech that preceded the band’s bagpipe-punk take on “Amazing Grace”; vocalist Al Barr gave a smoldering performance of Johnny Thunders’s elegiac 1978 track “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”
Springsteen beamed in from his home studio near the end, adding vocals and guitar to run-throughs of the Dropkicks’ 2012 track “Rose Tattoo” and his own 2012 immigrant anthem “American Land.” Appearing on the centerfield scoreboard above the band, Springsteen — who headlined Fenway’s first concert in 2003 — sounded in fine form, and the band’s enthusiasm over sharing a bill with him only added to the night’s fire.
After a run-through of the Fenway amp-up anthem "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" and the band's last-call singalong "Until the Next Time," Casey closed out the night with a short, impassioned display of gratitude capped by two words that likely resonated even more loudly in the homes where it was being watched: "Be kind."
DROPKICK MURPHYS: STREAMING OUTTA FENWAY
At Fenway Park, Friday. Archived stream available on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as at DropkickMurphys.com