Last week — back when Dropkick Murphys were still slated to play a skein of Boston shows during their St. Patrick’s Day run — Ken Casey, the band’s main songwriter-co-lead-singer-bassist, was on the phone with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor, a longtime fan of the Boston-based Celtic-punk band, was apologizing for not being able to come because he didn’t think it was the right thing to do with the Coronavirus spreading.
“He was saying, ‘How many hands do you shake that weekend?’” Casey said on the phone Monday. The Dropkicks call that run of gigs ‘The Blowout.’ “Our shows are a little more abnormal and our type of music is full contact. If you saw how quick [COVID-19] spread at Biogen, think how it would spread at a Dropkick Murphys show?
“So, we had second thoughts. Here we are out there telling everybody about the social distancing thing and how keeping to yourself is so important and if we turn it into, well … Some people are saying ‘This doesn’t scare me,’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s fine, it doesn’t necessarily scare me either, but it’s not about you, it’s about not passing it on.’”
All the shows — at Encore’s Picasso Ballroom, Big Night Live and three at the House of Blues — were postponed, as every concert in the state has been.
But the Dropkicks had a workable alternative at the ready — a livestream concert played to no one in a venue, but available on many internet platforms. It takes place Tuesday, at 7 p.m. EST and will be available on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“It was very quickly put together,” Casey says. “We had done a rehearsal for our Friday show, which was supposed to be in the round at the casino. It wasn’t where we normally rehearse. We were doing these extra practices and we needed this space because there was a lot to set up. They had a soundstage with the cameras and music recording equipment. So just having that made me say, ‘Wow, we could probably set up and do this [livestream].’ Everything you needed for video and audio was in there. So, we rolled out the idea.”
Casey says the space is in the Boston area, but politely declines to name it, fearing certain fans would flock to the site no matter what. When Casey posted the livestream announcement on his Facebook page, there were many variations of “awesome” responses that stacked up, but fan Gary Traylor wrote, “How am I supposed to stage dive and crack my head to this?”
Told about this, Casey laughs and says, “In the safety of your home.”
Dropkick Murphys are, of course, a physical band, in pretty close contact. “I don’t think we’ll keep the distance to a point where you’d notice it,” says Casey. “We’re not like a hair metal band that does solos, grinding on each other. But in passing, sometimes [co-lead singer] Al [Barr] and I like to exchange high-fives and we’ll be giving each other the elbow now.”
Dropkick Murphys have done a few brief livestreams before, but Casey says they were mostly acoustic, promotional appearances, done at “level five.” Normally, Casey says, “at rehearsal, we’re usually on level one, on soundcheck we’re maybe at level three, and on a show, we’re on level 10. [For this show] we definitely talked about the fact that we’re gonna play it like there are people in front of us, at level 10.”
There will be no family and no friends in attendance, just band and crew. The only person in the “audience” will likely be their monitor engineer Jon Marcantonio — “the most enthusiastic guy ever” — who will likely have his board set up there.
Dropkicks have done 23 of these local runs of shows around St. Patrick’s Day in Boston — taking 2014 off to play Dublin. On March 17, they’ll play their usual length show — 90 minutes — and Casey says it will be “the full show production, lights, a video wall behind us, the whole nine yards.” They’ll certainly play familiar favorites from their extensive catalog but sprinkle the show with three or four new songs from an upcoming, as yet untitled, album.
That will include the single “Smash Sh*t Up,” “The Queen of Suffolk County” and “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding.” The latter, Casey says, is drawn from an anecdote producer Ted Hutt told them. He was working in the same studio as former Clash guitarist Mick Jones. His people and theirs shared a refrigerator and Jones did what the title says.
“We were in the studio and taking a lunch break,” says Casey, “so while everyone went to lunch, I stayed back and was so inspired I had a song for it in five minutes.”
So, is this a “Boston” show or a show for the world?
“I’d say we’re gonna play it mainly for that core audience, whether they were coming to the gigs or not and if other people tune in, great,” says Casey.
And, if you’re waiting for the band in the flesh, you’ll get your delayed gratification. This fall, the Dropkicks will reshape “The Boston Blowout” with three Boston gigs: One at Big Night Live on Sept. 11, two at the House of Blues on Sept. 12 and 13, and then another at Encore’s Picasso Ballroom Nov. 6. The gigs will also serve as a record release party for a new album, out Sept. 11.
On that day, before the show, Casey will be at the charity golf tournament the band puts on yearly for its Claddagh Fund. Casey is a golfer — and a pretty good one, with a five-handicap — but he won’t be playing. “I’ll be riding around in a cart with Bobby Orr, heckling people.”