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Photo Cred: Whitney Denman

I’ve been so excited for this day, going to a live concert again. Like many, I have given lots of thought about what my first real, public concert experience would be like in a post-pandemic world.

While it’s true we are still very much in the pandemic, after 18 months of livestreams and digitized/monetized fan experiences, it was just energizing to be out amongst other music fans, enjoying some boot-stomping punk rock on the shores of the Ohio River.

And what a memory it was tonight, at the brand-new Andrew J. Brady Icon Music Center in downtown Cincinnati. The Icon, to those not paying attention, is Cincinnati’s new downtown music venue, that has both an indoor stage and an outdoor lawn stage. Since construction was only completed in spring 2021, it’s like out of nowhere suddenly the Queen City has a phenomenal music venue right in the heart of downtown. The outdoor stage is nestled just under Paul Brown Stadium, and the area surrounding provides great views of most of the major downtown Cincinnati landmarks in and around the river.

Like many tours, the ‘Boston to Berkeley II’ tour was originally scheduled for May of 2020. I have only seen Rancid one time, a quick set at a Warped Tour sometime in the 90s. And while Lars Frederickson joked that he was having a senior moment recalling details from his band’s past albums, tonight’s performance proved the old guys still have it.

Rancid took the crowd through a romp of their hits, mostly centered around tracks from 1995’s …And Out Come the Wolves. This album is by far their best work, and the set list had the same feel as that album. Tons of quick songs, great melodies, hardly any breaks in between. Tim “Timebomb” Armstrong shook his hips and played the role of artist, dreaded beard and ska hat in tow. He has to be one of the most interesting musicians that the general public probably doesn’t know. The only breather in their 22 song set was during the rendition of “The War’s End,” where Lars sang solo, reminding me a bit of Green Day’s “Good Riddance.”

It only makes sense that an energetic band like Rancid would share the stage with the Dropkick Murphys, another highly energetic band. As the band mentioned on stage, Lars of Rancid gave DKM their shot, and their first five albums were on Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat label.

Dropkick Murphys have gained a semi-mainstream popularity thanks to their Celtic/punk/party rock fusion. You can hear their rendition of ‘Tessie,’ at Boston Red Sox games. “I’m Shipping Off to Boston,” has been used to pivotal moments in film and television, and it used to pump up crowds in sporting events across the country. With the first song being “The Boys Are Back,” I was expecting the whole night to be that kind of party vibe: the boys are back! And they’re moshing, and screaming along to a loud but sonically consistent barrage from the band!

But the band is more dynamic now than those old days, as their audience has grown with them. Songs like “The State of Massachusetts” and “Queen of Suffolk County” have a little more subtly.

The highlights for me are when the band embraces the Celtic/folky/Irish side of their songs more overtly, and let songs breathe a little. Once that happens, the bite is always stronger when it comes back around.

This night proved to me that rock music deserves an audience, and boy did the audience miss concerts. Although the efforts by revenue-starved artists to offer live streams for the fans that were often compelling and worth the price of admission, nothing quite matches being in person. That power of community, of shared interest no matter how mundane, is something seldom felt in our isolated little worlds. The trip down familiar roads in your memory with boot-stomping punk rock as the soundtrack, finding a new path forward.

Dropkick Murphys / Rancid

Open Album