The Dropkick Murphys steal the show at this year's River Rave!

Murphys give Rave a powerful kicker
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 5/27/2003

MANSFIELD -- The River Rave is still among the best rock bargains of the season. For tickets of $45 and $65 (a fraction of what it costs to see some superstars), a consumer gets 10 hours of music from 17 acts spread over two stages. And that doesn't count other goodies such as the rave tent, the halfpipe for skateboarders, and the gaming displays for computer geeks. It's full-service rock 'n' roll with a 21st-century edge.

It was quite amusing, therefore, to see Boston's old-school punk band the Dropkick Murphys steal the show. Some folks questioned whether the Murphys could headline over hot bands such as Good Charlotte and AFI, not to mention Beck and special guest Jane's Addiction. But the Murphys did it in style Sunday, playing a propulsive closing set that kept most of the 17,000 fans from leaving early to beat traffic. Singer Al Barr's gruff, street-smart vocals and the general mania of the band were something to behold in the cavernous Tweeter Center, which was a long way from the recent St. Patrick's week shows the Murphys played at the smaller Avalon.

Another sign of approval was the number of musicians standing by the stage to hear the Murphys' punk anthems, including AFI's Davey Havok and Good Charlotte's Joel Madden. ''I'm 100 percent Irish,'' said Madden. ''I love the gang vocals and the feel of the music. And there's some old Irish folk music in there.'' There was also a stunning duet between Barr and Stephanie Doherty, who often sings with the band, on ''If I Were a Carpenter,'' dedicated to the late June Carter Cash.

The Murphys had the mosh pit churning, climaxing a WBCN-sponsored River Rave that defied most expectations. There was fear that, because 'BCN downsized the event to the Tweeter Center from Gillette Stadium this year, the talent and the energy might be off. Not true. Most bands seemed turned on by the setting and played their hearts out. The main stage was electric, starting with an opening set by South Africa's Seether, which was joined by Amy Lee of Evanescence and peaked with a tribute to deceased singer Dave Williams of Drowning Pool (''Fine Again,'' with its lyric ''I'm not scared now'').

The main stage stayed hot with the Donnas offering a punky whirl spiced by the attitude-rich ''Who Invited You.'' The Used hurt the pace with a fairly generic set, but it picked up again with Evanescence (whose singer, Lee, worked the crowd like a seasoned pro), AFI (with singer Havok standing atop outstretched hands in the mosh pit), then Jane's Addiction, which played for only about 25 minutes but made them count. Pencil-thin singer Perry Farrell struck funny Charles Atlas poses and barked out the new single ''Just Because'' (from an album due July 22) plus Jane's alt-rock classic ''Been Caught Stealing,'' with guitarist Dave Navarro adding synapse-shredding power chords. It was a great performance that made one long for more when the band headlines Lollapalooza on July 25 at the Tweeter.

The Memphis-based Saliva added old-fashioned, horn-salute metal/rock that niftily included a snatch of Tears for Fears' ''Shout'' and a nasty putdown of the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam for questioning the recent war in Iraq.

Then came a superb set from hippie-surfer/Dave-Matthews-in-the-making Jack Johnson. Smart money suggested that he couldn't follow Saliva, but he did so beautifully. That led to a somewhat meandering but mostly spot-on set from rock experimentalist Beck. From ''Loser'' to ''Devils Haircut,'' he gave the crowd what it wanted. A nonstop, showmanship-drenched stint from the neo-punk Good Charlotte then set up the Dropkicks finale. The only disappointment was the cancellation of Blur, which WBCN program director Oedipus said was because of a ''weak excuse.''

Meanwhile, the ''pit stage'' in the parking lot hummed with 'BCN Rumble winner Dresden Dolls, followed by the likes of hed (pe), which mixed frat-boy humor and revolutionary rhetoric; Interpol, whose droney, Velvet Underground-like sound was a sophisticated change; and Finch, which somehow drew more females to its mosh pit than any other band. How to explain that? Hey, it's the River Rave. Just enjoy. It's not rocket science.


With: Dropkick Murphys, Jane's Addiction, Jack Johnson, Beck, AFI, Good Charlotte, and others