Dropkick Murphys ship down to Pittsburgh

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"For us, it's the most wonderful time of the year," says Matt Kelly, drummer and second-longest-running member of the Dropkick Murphys.

Boston's favorite punks have a 14-year tradition there of playing St. Patrick's Day bashes, basically on the same street. And leading up to that day, the Murphys hit Pittsburgh Saturday night with a sold-out show at Stage AE.

Dropkick Murphys
With: Lucero, Skinny Lister.
Where: Stage AE, North Shore.
When: Doors at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: Sold out.

"The run-up to it is just as important for us. It's what we stand for," Mr. Kelly says. "You know you're going to be on tour this time of year if you're in this band."

We're still in the midst of a crazy 12 months for the Murphys and their hometown, which hit the highest highs and the lowest lows in 2013. In April, the city was rocked by the Boston Marathon bombing.

"It was like Boston lost its innocence," the drummer says. "When the bombing happened we were in Santa Cruz, Calif., three hours behind. We wake up and the news is on, and I hate to use a cliche, but it's so surreal because you see your town smoldering and you're 3,000 miles away. I couldn't reach my wife. It was a very scary time."

The band flew home a month later for the Boston Strong benefit concert with fellow Bostonians Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, James Taylor, New Kids on the Block and more. "We were honored to be part of that," Mr. Kelly says.

In October, Boston hit the high with David Ortiz and the Red Sox giving the town an emotional lift by winning another World Series. The Murphys delivered the national anthem at Fenway Park for the final game and capped it with their raucous hometown anthem "Shipping Up to Boston."

"That helped. The town needed that," Mr. Kelly says of the win. "To be part of that, to be a part of history. ... We sang the national anthem. That was nuts to be part of such a great tradition. To be able to pull it off without sounding like complete and utter crap, that's a difficult song to sing. Glad it turned out well. It could have gone south."

As for the spirit in the town now, he says, "It's in the back of people's minds what happened. There has to be time to heal and, of course, it's going to be much longer or forever for those who were directly affected."

In the wake of the bombings, the Murphys joined with Bruce Springsteen to release a charity single of "Rose Tattoo," a song from last year's "Signed and Sealed in Blood," the band's eighth album. It came stocked with rowdy songs -- "The Boys Are Back," "Burn," "Jimmy Collins' Wake" -- that the Murphys had been playing for a while on tour.

"It was one of those things where we had the creative juices left over from the last album," Mr. Kelly says. "We had all these riffs and ideas and lyrics and it was like boom, you know. We took almost the opposite approach from 'Going Out in Style.' That was such a concept album. This one was more, boom, just do it."

This will be the band's second trip to Stage AE; the last one, in September 2012, ended with the club's massive stage filled with dancing, singing fans.

"I still miss Club Laga, sitting on the fourth floor of a building," he says, "but the [Stage AE] facility is dynamite: great staff, great stage, great sound, great sight lines."

Saturday's show sold out quickly, another sign that the Murphys have come a long way from the days of small clubs and Warped Tour slots.

"We've always been kind of an underdog band, for years," Mr. Kelly says. "We just do what we've always done, and I guess more people dig it now. Lucky for us, we're still relevant. So many bands that are around for that long, they're playing their greatest hits records. We're writing new stuff that our fans are enjoying. That's a great feeling. We never envisioned playing in Fenway Park or Boston Gardens or doing big headlining shows. No way. It was, 'Let's do this show and get to the next show and get to the next tour. Make sure there's food on the table.' It's by making the right choices and luck that we are where we are."

In fact, fans here love them enough that singer Ken Casey, a huge Boston sports fan, can get away with jabs at the Steelers and Penguins.

"Ahh, it's a mutual respect," Mr. Kelly says. "We love Pittsburgh. You guys know that. A little friendly banter is nice."

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