TIME WARP IN THE
ANNE FRANK MUSEUM
by Joe Coughlin
Jesus, has it really been 25 years? Actually, longer. The drinking age was 18 when I started clubbing, four years before T Max hatched this thing. The number of bands back then who had the stuff to endure (and sadly, didn’t) is staggering. But the number of people still at it is equally so. This is a VERY short list of players who made these pages back then, and who continue today. Apologies to the many I’ve missed, this is off the top of my head, from a partial list of issues and who was in them. (I urge all those still out there to post their current events on the Noise Board.) The peripheral characters alone here could fill ten more articles, but I held it to names definitely published. Some of you will even have favorite bands now whose members were playing before you were born. So, by year and issue number in which these pieces ran, here’s a short glimpse at how some of this has come together over time.
1981 (#1) The club Streets opened in Allston, and Human Sexual Response (whose song titles this article, more on them later) were an early draw. Later clips from these shows can be seen in the archives at www.kinodv.net. (#2) The Phantoms’ Angelo “Piggy” Aversinow drums for Girl On Top. Matt Burns of V; now drums for Classic Ruins (who started in the ’70s and never left), Awakening Stick, and sometimes The Coffin Lids. In between, he’s played with Inside Outburst, The Peecocks, Spike, Alice Highland, a one-shot live incarnation of GG Allin and the AIDS Brigade, and many others. (#4) Lizzie Borden(& The Axes) opened for The Ramones, and she now fronts The Liz Borden Band.
1982 (#5) Young Snakes spawned Aimee Mann’s career. (#6) Gang Green appeared on the famous This Is Boston, Not L.A. EP, and have been back playing awhile now. (#7) Propeller Records founded a cassette-only label whose roster largely fueled a tiny club called The Underground near B.U. (which hosted early appearances of Pylon, The Cure, and Glen Matlock’s post-Sex Pistols band The Spectres, to name a few). An early compilation featured Dangerous Birds (with Thalia Zedek, later of Uzi), Art Yard (including, for a time, T Max on guitar and vocals, and ex-Maps bassist Dan Salzmann, who would later join Christmas), and The Neats (featuring Eric Martin, still out fronting his Illyrians), who would be the last band to play there, literally bringing down the house (the ceiling tiles, anyway) during a cover of Roky Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” Arcade Ambo (a more upbeat variance of New York’s The Dance) played a show at the now-defunct Inn Square Men’s Bar which I’ll never forget. Vivacious singer Denise DiZio later performed with Snack World, Crown Electric Company, Boston Rock Opera, and was recently spotted singing backup in Allan Sheinfeld’s notorious “Alvis” revue as one of “The Nutra-Sweet Sensations.” (#9) Carmelita (then host of WERS’ local show Metrowave) now hosts Bay State Rock on WAAF, Sunday nights. (#10) Carter Alan became a honcho at ’BCN, befriended U2 and wrote a well-received book about them. Primary Colors’ (and then-former Atlantics’) drummer Ray Fernandez runs Boston Butta Beats studio and plays out with The Illegals.
1983 (#16): Aimee Mann’s next band ’Til Tuesday won the Rumble and quickly broke wide. She continues to record, and recently performed with The Boston Pops. (#18) Much-loved Del Fuegos would get national attention from their beer commercial. Frontguy Dan Zanes now makes music for the children’s market. (#18) Three Hands’ bassist Chas McCann plays in jazz duo Tenor Madness, and can often be seen in street performance. (#19) Psychowould hook up and record with GG Allin, and have played out recently. (#20) Men & Volts (originally a Captain Beefheart cover band) would release several wildly acclaimed records. Members would start (or join) the Duplex Planet mini-industry, Fort Apache Studios, Agbekor Drum Troupe, Ramcat, Joey DuPont Reaction, The Burning Sensations, Condo Pygmies, The Roys, and countless others. Guitarist Phil Kaplan now helms both Bangalore and Funeral Barkers (the latter with Billy Loosigian of Willie Alexander’s original Boom Boom Band), while drummer John Proudman plays out with Cul De Sac (featuring Robin Amos, ex-Girls synth-ist from back around the same time). Men & Volts and The Incredible Casuals would cover each other on record. The Casuals are 20-plus years into their summer Sunday residency at the Wellfleet Beachcomber, and some members also still play with The Chandler Travis Philharmonic. (#22) Christmas would go on to open for Husker Du at the Orpheum. Some members would form Combustible Edison, move to Vegas, do soundtracks and work with space-age loungemeister Esquivel. Myspace.com shows the band as currently based in New York.
1984 (#23) Jerry’s Kids scored opening slots for major hardcore acts at The Channel’s legendary matinee series. When they dissolved, Bob Cenciformed the sci-fi-billy Hellcats From Outer Space, played solo and other stuff. In 2006, Jerry’s Kids are back. Prime Movers would essentially become The Slaves, both of whom are also playing again. Some members also appeared in costumed surf act The Strangemen along the way, and were somehow picked to open for Jimmy Buffet. (#36) Volcano Suns were started by drummer Peter Prescott after Mission Of Burma disbanded, but Dredd Foole & the Din (basically Burma fronted by the manic Dan Ireton) were recording. Burma members went into other disparate projects, until they miraculously reunited in 2002, and are still at is as we speak, while Foole was back out this year with a solo fingerpicking act. (#28) Kenne Highland would go on to release more records with more bands than anyone (including himself) has apparently been able to keep track of. Latest word has him singing with a gospel choir. (#29) The Turbines (sprung from Noise Pencil and The 2×4’s), would release the beloved single “Wah Hey!” and more, and open for X at The Orpheum. Singer John Hovorka moved to New York, but still plays out (including here) under his last name only. Salem 66 was fronted by ex-Maps singer Judy Grunwald (song subject of locals The Dark), who’d eventually marry David Minehan, now of Woolly Mammoth studios, and then-leader of 1979 Rumble winners The Neighborhoods who, you guessed it, are playing again. DJ Shred founded Frontal Assualt fanzine, Espo Records, hosted “Boston Emissions” on ’BCN, was heavily involved with the Rumble, and has booked various clubs for years. (#30) The Blackjacks featured Johnny Angel, ex-Thrills/ City Thrills (which included bassist Merle Allin, who would join Cheater Slicks before they left town, then find worldwide infamy with brother GG). Angel also founded parody act The Swinging Erudites (with former Rat/ Hoodoo BBQ chef James Ryan), as well as Punk Saliva, a cover band with Springa of SSD singing. Mostly writing and doing radio in L.A. these days, Angel still found time to whip up a recent Blackjacks reunion at The Abbey. The Outlets would release some classic vinyl. The lineup and sound would fluctuate, but they were still out there as of fairly recently. (#31) The Dogmatics, notorious from their Thayer Street loft scene days, would tragically lose a founding member in a motorcycle accident, but are also back doing shows now. (#33) Then-’BCN jock Mark Parenteau currently resides at a New York correctional facility.
1985 (#34): Uziwas formed by Thalia Zedek (who was yet to join Live Skull, and later the band Come with Chris Brokaw, ex-Codeine, and yet another local who would record with GG Allin). The flyer for their farewell show at the old Johnny D’s (now the Common Ground in Allston, unrelated to the Somerville club) implored, “Come Die With Us.” Last checked, Zedek was still at it. O Positivefrontguy Dave Herlihy would form Toyboat. He’s now an entertainment lawyer and professor, teaching a record industry class at Northeastern. Mr. Curt, who played with Third Rail, and won the 1980 Rumble with Pastiche, now fronts The Mr. Curt Ensemble, and just released a new 10-song CD. (#35) Willie Alexander still plays occasionally, and released an all-new record with his original Boom Boom Band about a year ago. (#37) Barrence Whitfieldstill plays locally and has a huge European following. Not only did Lyres never quit, but there have been recent reunions of forerunners DMZ, featuring J. J. Rassler, who still plays with The Downbeat 5. (#41) Johnny & the Jumper Cables have played out in the last few years, and ringleader Johnny Black is in the process of resurrecting his trio. (#42) A revised Throwing Muses played a show in August ’06 without Tanya Donnelly, who had a nice run with Belly in the interim. Kristin Hersh, meanwhile, has released six solo albums and now plays with 50 Foot Wave. (#43) The Flies went on to share members with The Titanics, Satanics and, later, Upper Crust (still playing). (#44) Band 19 featured Richie Parsons of Unnatural Axe, who still do shows. (#46) The Five’s arresting vocalist Reid Paley moved to Brooklyn, but still plays solo and with his trio. And coming full circle for these years, members of Human Sexual Response had become The Zulus, whose bassist Rich Cortesehas lately played with Wendi Faren and Shaun Wolf Wortis, while guitarist Rich Gilbert was playing out with Frank Black before the recent Pixies reunion. I’m out of room, but obviously this doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Bands Who Could Be Good
by Francis DiMenno
After absorbing punk, new wave, post-punk, two-tone, nouveaux-psychedelia and hardcore/ thrash, by late 1984 the Boston scene seemed temporarily adrift. Although, commercially, heavy metal, synth-based pop, Athens/ Hoboken-style jangle, and U2-style guitar rock predominated, garage punk bands such as Lyres, The Neats, and The Outlets also endured. Cantones and The Underground were long gone, supplanted by Jack’s, Chet’s, Johnny D’s, Green Street Station, and others. As ever, The Rat featured non-mainstream local acts.
However, by the late 1980s, the scene had undergone a renaissance and two Cambridge clubs in Central Square predominated: T.T. the Bearsand The Middle East. From 1988 to 1990, local booking agent Billy Ruane helped expose breaking acts to a wider audience—who else, for instance, would have given the homeless Mr. Butch his own weekly showcase?
Let’s backtrack a bit. What factors were behind the revival of the Boston scene? I suspect that by 1985, Boston bands had begun influencing rather than following trends. Furthermore, in 1986 and 1987, vinyl releases became instrumental in driving a local renaissance, abetted by regional record labels Ace of Hearts, Taang!, Homestead, Throbbing Lobster, Arf Arf, and, later, Stanton Park—as well as by airplay on college radio stations such as WMBR and WERS. Furthermore, the rise of alternative rock enabled three significant local bands to gain national exposure.
The first of these was Throwing Muses, whose 1985 cassette-only and 1986 full-length LP releases were astonishingly novel. There existed no prior frame of reference for their work, except possibly the Shaggs by way of the Go-Gos, albeit fired by an extraordinary lyrical and musical intelligence. They followed up with 1987’s Chains Changed EP, 1988’s Sire Records debut, The Fat Skier, and 1989’s Hunkpapa.
The second was Dinosaur with their first self-titled release in 1986, and, especially, their SST label LP You’re Living All Over Me, from late 1987. You could liken these Deep Wound offshoots from Western Massachusetts to Neil Young backed by a Crazy Horse who could really play; yet their world-weary cynicism was thoroughly contemporary. They followed up with 1988’s Bug, then Lou Barlow left the band to form Sebadoh.
To complete the triad, there was the 1987 eight-song debut by The Pixies, Come on Pilgrim. Black Francisliked Lou Reed (he told us so), but The Pixies’ fiery, atavistic approach to rock ’n’ roll (quote: “Cro-Magnons with X-Ray guitars”) was anything but affectless. They consolidated their reputation with 1988’s Surfer Rosa, 1989’s Doolittle, and 1990’s Bossanova.
Three very different local bands also excelled: avant-garde mainstay Christmas released their long-awaited LP In Excelsior Dayglo in 1986 and followed it with 1989’s Prophets…; jangle-pop avatar Salem 66 released their ecstatic 1987 LP Frequency and Urgency, and the 1988 follow-up National Treasures…; punk revivalists The Lemonheads appeared with their 1987 debut LP Hate Your Friends, followed by Creator and Lick.
Former Mission of Burma and Volcano Suns members also made their mark: 1986 gave us The Volcano Suns’ sophomore disc, the rampaging All-Night Lotus Party, as well as brilliant LPs by Dredd Foole & The Din, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and Roger Miller. In 1987, Miller released the Groping Hands EP and Volcano Suns pounded us into submission with their pot-leaf emblazoned third LP, Bumper Crop. Veterans of the first Volcano Suns lineup, Big Dipper scored with a six-song EP, Boo Boo, and a follow-up LP, Heavens. In 1988 Taang! emptied their vaults and released a slew of Mission of Burma demo recordings and studio out-takes, Dredd Foole’s second LP belatedly appeared, and Big Dipper triumphed with the LP Craps, with its classic Suns-era anthem “Song to be Beautiful.” In 1989 Volcano Suns released Farced, and in 1990, the double-LP Thing of Beauty.
From 1986-1990, The Noise reviewed many classic local singles, EPs and albums. Overall, 1986 was an extraordinary year: the moody pop-punk band Dumptruck released their second LP, Positively; there were also debuts by roots-rockers The Turbines, blues-minimalists Treat Her Right, the melodic Three Colors and Scruffy the Cat, and two-tone ska holdouts Bim Skala Bim.
On the heavier side, fans were treated to The Oysters’ garage rock anthem “Mine Caroline”; the LP Burning in Water by the newly reformed Moving Targets; 1986 rumble winners Gang Green’s debut LP, plus debuts by Sorry and straight-edge thrashers Slap Shot. On the more avant-garde side were EPs by Uzi and The Wild Stares, and The Last Sacrifice scored with a compelling goth A-side, thrash B-side single: “Suspended/ Acid Rain Dance.” Further on the fringes were releases by Expando Brain, Holy Cow, and Sleep Chamber.
Veteran bands also released fine debuts and second albums; these included: Classic Ruins, Men & Volts, The Flies, The Dogmatics, Chain Link Fence, The Nervous Eaters, and The Neighborhoods, with their long-awaited second LP The High Hard One.
1987 also offered an outstanding roster: In the roots-rock category were Dumptruck’s third, and The Turbines’ second LPs, plus Willie Alexander’s classic Tap-Dancing on My Piano. Three Colors and Dr. Black’s Combo also released collections, and the Mash It Up! anthology showcased local ska/ two-tone bands. There was also “Lunch With Ed,” a demo by the funk-percussion AEF-offshoots in Dogzilla. On the punk side, Clash acolytes Last Stand released their LP debut.
Older bands such as Lyres and The Neighborhoods also continued to supplement their recorded legacy. The Girls, an extraordinary avant-garde ensemble from the early 1980s, issued an LP, Reunion, which featured their immortal cult favorite “Jeffrey I Hear You.”
In 1988 mainstays Erik Lindgren, Willie Alexander, Men & Volts, The Unattached, and Wild Stares all released noteworthy records, but this year was also pivotal for up and coming bands: on the roots-rock front were Nova Mob with “Cavalry”/ “Mad House,” plus Tracy Santa, and The Idlewiles, with “Hell in a Handtruck”/ “Fly,” and “A Room as High”/ “Maybe Tomorrow.” The Cavedogs released a pop single, “Step Down”/ “Proud Land”; The Blake Babies debuted with their 9-song LP, Nicely, Nicely; and Galaxie 500 issued a single, following it up with an LP, Today. Bim Skala Bim released their second LP, and Barrence Whitfield, with a new Savages line-up, his third.
On the hard rock side, Gang Green and Slap Shot pleased their fans with sophomore discs; Hullabaloo and Bullet la Volta issued 6-song EPs; Anastasia Screamed released their first single.
Other LP debuts arrived, from rhythm-and-politics combo Vasco Da Gama; Uzi offshoots A Scanner Darkly; synth/ grungers Common Ailments of Maturity; and noisemakers World of Distortion and Meltdown. EPs appeared by 1986 rumble winners Childhood and folk-revivalists Big Barn Burning, and The Raindogs debuted with their glum “Lonesome Pain”/ “Grey House.” The folk-rockers in Lazy Susan and Blood Oranges, and world-music aficionados Les Miserables, debuted, with cassettes, as did the inimitable Well Babys; and the poetic folkies in Ed’s Redeeming Qualities released two demos of classic songs.
1989 was the year that the old order truly began to pass. To be sure, the long-awaited single, “Red Clouds”/ “The Bo Tree,” by Busted Statues finally appeared, plus debut singles by The Gingerbread Men and Mindgrinder (both featuring former members of Children of Paradise). Furthermore, Classic Ruins, Holy Cow and Treat Her Right released follow-up efforts, and the Zulus their first full-lengther; and pop veterans Push Push, garage rockers The Del Fuegos and The Five, plus thrash mainstays Jerry’s Kids and Slapshot, all got out LPs. But this was also the year of The Blake Babies’ Earwig, and LP debuts by The Slaves, Cxema, Buffalo Tom, Hollow Heyday, Miranda Warning, Bullet la Volta, and (1989 rumble champs) The Bags, as well as EP debuts by Anastasia Screamed, Masters of the Obvious, and A.C. Demos by stomp-rockers Hell Toupee, psyche-recidivists The Void, and avant-edged racketeers Green Magnet School and Still Life all began crowding the oldheads off the racks.
In 1990, scene veterans such as Roger Miller(No Man), Nat Freedberg (The Titanics), Kenny Chambers (Moving Targets), Salem 66, and The Cavedogs all released quality LPs, and at the end of that year came Anastasia Screamed’s masterpiece, Laughing Down the Limehouse. But LP releases by Sebadoh, High Risk Group, and Common Ailments of Maturity also heralded the arrival of a new avant-garde sensibility, and single and demo debuts by newer bands were brilliantly abrasive (Think Tree, Gingerbutkis, Slaughter Shack, Medicine Ball, Six Finger Satellite, Bulkhead, Subskin Cables) and willfully odd (Left Nut, Uncle Foamy, Lunk, 7 or 8 Worm Hearts, and Judas & Natasha Experiments), but always original and intriguing. There were also more mainstream pop-oriented releases, such as those by Vasco Da Gama, Buffalo Tom, Laughing Academy, O Positive, Big Barn Burning, Sob Story, Letters To Cleo, Curious Ritual, The 360s, The Dambuilders, The Bosstones, The Vouts, and 1988 Rumble winners Heretix. Such pop bands were also to set the stage, if not the standard, for the next five years.
As ever, “cult” bands often coalesced into the next period’s hot new acts. Psycho-Tec went on to form Think Tree; The Void became Rootlock and, eventually, Mascara; Mark Sandman (Treat Her Right) and Dana Colley (Three Colors) formed Morphine; Chic Graning and Anastasia Screamed split into Scarce and Delta Clutch, respectively; Rich Gilbert(The Zulus) went on to wider fame.
And, finally, let’s not forget G.G. Allin. As if we ever could.
CROSSING GENRELESS TERRITORY
by Joel Simches
There was never a more exciting time to be a musician than between 1991-1995. Music and bands, crossing genreless territory seemed to flourish. It seemed that Boston was either the hotbed of creative musical freedom or a microcosm of the industry as a whole and a harbinger of what it would become today, for good or ill. You could go to the Rat, which still had some great shows. In fact, in ’91 Boston Magazine had voted the Rat the “Best Dive in Town!” But, sadly, head doorman/manager Mitch Cerullo was no longer as involved in the place. He would still be there every night taking tickets and flirting with the young women, but as his importance faded with his ill health, so did the magic and the legend of the club. Cerullo passed away in March of ’95, taking what little magic that club still had with him. The Rat would never be the same again. Bunratty’s came into its own as a creative musical hotspot in the early ’90s. With Chris Porter booking some fantastic bands like Cxema, Womb to Tomb, and Common Ailments of Maturity, for a while at least, Bunratty’s played host to the heavies of the scene and Chris Poster almost single handedly made Bunratty’s “cool” again, but the reputation of its own past and the sometimes rough neighborhood took its toll on the club’s attendance. It reopened for a few months as the Melody Lounge, then it was Buns again, and then finally the club was sold to the evil empire that was and still is the Lyons Group and Clear Channel (as Local 186); clearly a sign of things to come.
Through all the rock club drama within the remnants of the old guard, the Middle East became the hip place to be. It’s where new talent was quickly discovered and given voice. It was where established bands tried out new things on their audience. It was slowly reshaping the scene. Mikey Dee would be there, air drumming to bands like Curious Ritual, Six Finger Satellite, The Barnies, Miles Dethmuffen, Laughing Academy, and Dreams Made Flesh. In fact, Mikey created his own scene. He was there every night as the champion of great music. If he was at your show, you knew you were in a cool band. Go there any night of the week and you could see a pop band, a metal band, a psychotic acid freak-out experimental band, and a belly dancer on the same bill. In fact, until the Downstairs opened in November of ’92, the Middle East was THE place to see the jaw dropping intensity of everything the Boston music scene had to offer. The list of bands that made that club their home was a who’s who of Boston music, then and now. This was a fertile time for music.
It was in 1991 that T Max, along with Mary Feuer and Steven Silbert (from the band the Well Babies) assembled a cast of Boston notables such as Gabrielle Travis (Thee Atom Said, whose guitarist Reeves Gabrels would later go on to be David Bowie’s guitarist), Pat McGrath (Wheelers & Dealers), Brother Cleve (also in Wheelers & Dealers before he recreated the lounge music genre with Combustible Edison and work with Esquivel!) and many others, to stage a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, sowing the seeds that would become the Boston Rock Opera in 1993. The BRO, under the direction of Mick Maldonado and Eleanor Ramsay, would stage Superstar many more times along with Preservation Act by The Kinks, Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, and an original production written by Common Ailments of Maturity’s guitarist/ songwriter, Tim Robert, called Crackpot Notion. The success of Boston Rock Opera opened doors for a lot of similar minded productions such as Acme Theater and Catbox Theatre among others.
Once the Middle East Downstairs had opened, Bunratty’s and the Rat were on their way out. Chet’s Last Call reopened as the Causeway, but even with booking wizard Martin Doyleputting together some spectacular shows, the club scene was changing. Clubs were losing money once the smoking ban was passed in restaurants, parking was always an issue, and people no longer interested in going out to clubs where they were starting to book “bigger drawing” bands. These bands were beginning to all sound the same, appealing less to musicians and more to the “college” crowd and a common denominator that would gradually creep lower and lower by ’95. Competition for good shows at the favorite haunts was starting to get fierce and it was hard for more eclectic and “interesting” bands to find a gig. The growing competition between agents and clubs to secure the “drawing” bands would lead to intense booking battles between the Middle East and TT the Bears, whose shows catered to the same clientele, and also happened to be right next-door to each other. The major clubs were slowly starting to back away from giving new bands a chance to develop in favor of filling their clubs with a reliable crowd that drinks a lot of Rolling Rock. It was becoming clear that the growing DIY/ indie community was beginning to need a new home.
Enter the Kirkland Café. In 1993, Mickey Bliss took this divey neighborhood bar, and with a makeshift stage and thrown together PA, the Kirkland soon became the hotspot for musicians who could no longer get a good show at places like TT’s and the Middle East. The owner, Joe Hernon, loved having musicians in his bar and encouraged local personalities and bands to put their own shows together. Pretty soon Mikey Dee started having his own nights there, booking bands he made popular on his radio show, On the Town with Mikey Dee on WMFO. Mikey’s radio show was intensely popular with the bands he championed and bands were eager for airplay and to do a live set on the air. Those bands also made the Kirkland their new home. It was here that Al Janik brought his own brand of zaniness to the world, or at least to the Somerville/ Medford musical elite, with Rattle Heatre, which featured members of Scruffy the Cat and Trojan Ponies. It was also here that the swamp rock of Slide began a tradition of Mardi Gras and Bastille Day celebrations, which included a who’s who of guest musicians, performing tradional New Orleans classics.
Singer/ songwriters started to gain prominence as well as female-fronted rock powerhouses, whose doors of opportunity were opened by the likes of Tanya Donelly and Kirsten Hirsh (of Throwing Muses) and Kim Deal (Pixies). Their sound became pervasive through the ’90s and made local heroes out of Letters to Cleo, Jules Verdone, Tracy Bonham, Jennifer Trynin, and Paula Cole, who would go on to make Dawson’s Creek a household word, and giving loads of local bands the opportunity to get their songs played on the television show.
Independent record labels started to find their feet in this era. Their low overhead, DIY ethic became appealing for bands simply looking for wider distribution, airplay, and better shows. Local labels like Curve of the Earth and Cherry Disc became music scenes unto themselves, cultivating relationships with bands and setting up highly successful club shows featuring bands on their roster. These labels would eventually make stars out of bands like Letters to Cleo, Powerman 5000, and Godsmack. Castle Von Bulher records brought AIDS prevention and awareness to the Boston community with their Soon compilation. This record label would be home to much of Boston’s ethereal/ goth scene through most of the ’90s.
Once Nirvana’s ubiquitous hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was getting regular airplay on Kiss108, major labels were quick to sign as many indie rock bands as they could, snatching indie labels left and right and making music more accessible with national distribution. While this worked for some bands, the corporate mentality and unrealistic expectations of record sales from bands that were never given ample time to develop would take its toll on bands and indie labels alike. This would put the spotlight on the Boston scene, but it would also spell a certain death for anyone fortunate enough to get a contract. Bands that got signed from 1991-1995 include Think Tree, The Shods, The Cavedogs, Letters to Cleo, Jen Trynin, The Dambuilers, The 360’s, Gigolo Aunts, Galaxie 500, The Story, Buffalo Tom, Little John, Paula Cole, Aimee Mann, Orangutang, and John Dragonetti (Wadi Trip) who as Jack Drag would go solo and have his four track demos put out by a major label, giving birth to a whole new DIY studio ethic.
It would insane to try to list all the musicians who made this era memorable, but rest assured, though a lot of these great bands splintered and imploded, many members are still involved in the industry.
FAR FROM SUCKODYNE
by Lexi Kahn
You remember your first kiss, your first drink, and your first time behind the wheel of your very own car. How about your first issue of The Noise? For me it was 1996. I went to the Middle East to see Betty Goo and casually picked up issue #160. Everyone on the cover (Women of Sodom and Miles Dethmuffen) had tongues and hands exploring everyone else. I was hooked. Industrial experimental sexcapades right alongside pure pop bliss? I would soon learn that the genre-blending cover design was de rigueur for this spunky little fanzine, an unintentional statement; at least two bands, but always at least two people pictured. (The trendbuster came with #191, May 1999 when beefcake Jed Parish of The Gravel Pit graced the cover solo.)
The second half of the 1990s was interesting, because the decade had rolled in on a wave of new technology and by ’96 well-known bands like Radiohead had demonstrated new ways to use the new toys. Indie labels were everywhere and recording boomed. In Boston, a pop/ punk/ garage town, the trend seemed to usher forth artsy, dark pop. The Noise was still packed with reverential reviews of three-chord demons like The Freeze and Lyres and Gang Green and The Nines, and of course there was no stopping pop powerhouses like Gigolo Aunts and The Pills and Jack Drag. But a certain experimental quirk had blossomed. Bands like Think Tree, Galaxie 500, and Throwing Muses had certainly paved the way, but by ’96 there was an insistent polished wash of synthesized moodiness. Darkwave? Alternawave? The Noise called it all kinds of things (in issue #168, of Flexie, “powergoth” was coined). It was a great time for bands like edgy acts like Turkish Delight, The Moors, Lunar Plexus, Women of Sodom, Opium Den, Neptune, Cordelia’s Dad, Gingerbutkis, Mistle Thrush, Reflecting Skin, Sabot, Curtain Society, Splashdown, January, little a, One of Us, Litterapture and Saint Chimera. On his very computerized “Astounding World of Tomorrow’s Modern Hi-Fi Audio” (reviewed in issue #160) Pete Weiss issued a time-stamp with “I Hate Rock and Roll.” He sings “Axl Rose can suck my Wang Chung and the Beatles can suck my Flipper/Cuz all the songs have already been sung and that goes double for the Big Dipper.” Heh. I like that. And I loved those bands.
From 1997 to 1999, I averaged five nights a week in the clubs. Five years. Fifty Noises. Hundreds of bands. Though the 1996 Noise poll (#168) threw the most kudos to sludge rockers Quintaine, artsy Turkish Delight and January and prog/space newcomers Count Zero, it was the pop bands mostly winning record deals… and WBCN Rumbles. Oh, those sweet Boston harmonies, infectious hooks and power chords. From ’97 to ’99, delivering the best of the pop rock (and a ton of Noise coverage) were Grooveasaurus, Betty Goo, Lifestyle, Orbit, Sameasyou, Push Stars, Morphine, Sheila Divine, Permafrost, Seventeen, Rocketscience, Boy Wonder, Francine, Angry Salad, Flying Nuns, Pooka Stew, Inhale Mary, SayhitoLisa, The Flux, Douglas Fir, Lockgroove, Mary Lou Lord, Jules Verdone, Ramona Silver, Dirt Merchants, Godboy, Gigolo Aunts, Chin Ho!, Wide Iris, The Pills, Jack Drag, Jumprope, The Irresponsibles, Standing on Earth, The Sterlings, Poundcake, Merrie Amsterburg, The Shods, Star Ghost Dog, Calendar Girl, Mindflow, Tanya Donnelly, Jim’s Big Ego, The Mudhens, Krebstar, Baby Ray, El Camino, Cheerleader, Control Group… man, this list only barely begins to scratch the surface.
And what about the cats churning out surf/spy? And ska. Like Rustic Overtones, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Bim Skala Bim, Seks Bomba, Babaloo, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Skavoovie, Strangemen….
And the guitar-driven, no-holds-barred face-melters! Random Road Mother, Canine, Sleestack, Chinstrap, Honkyball, Tree, Shiva Speedway, Roadsaw, There, 8-Ball Shifter, El Dopa, Bentmen, PM5K, Scissorfight, Underball, 3 1/2 Girls, Skingame, Neon Jesus, Darkbuster, Cave In, Kicked in the Head, Gangsta Bitch Barbie, Half Cocked…
And the DIY punk and garage straight-up rock of Toxic Narcotic, The Peasants, Firepig, Luau, Ross Phasor, Rootlock, The Vic Morrows, Real Kids, Amazing Royal Crowns, The Freeze, Lyres, The Nines, Media Connection, Underball…
And don’t forget the purveyors of roots and rockabilly and blues and funk: Slide, Speed Devils, Crown Electric Company, Racketeers, Caged Heat…
Five years. Fifty Noises. Hundreds of bands. Good times. GREAT times. Here are some of my favorite Noise moments from this enormously fertile half-decade.
#173, July 1997, in which Mikey Dee writes the Scissorfight cover story and outs the scary-looking Ironlung as a scholar, a Papas Fritas fan, and then they discuss the weather for a whole quarter page. (From the same issue, does anybody have a copy of The World’s First Van Halen Tribute Compilation advertised on page 32, with Cherry 2K, Elbow, Fuzzy, Sam Black Church and more?)
#175, Oct 1997, in which Erik Lindgren (Birdsongs of the Mesozic) educates us newbies on the brilliance that is Mission of Burma. (Same issue, The Upper Crust placed a full-page ad of themselves in full wig & make-up surrounded by mostly naked concubines.)
#180, April 1998, in which Einstein writes a one-line review of the Heretix reunion show. “For the love of God and your fans, don’t leave!” (Same issue, The Syphlloids put the lesbian orgy ad that began to alarm some Noise distro locations.)
#185, Oct 1998, in which Tim Catz (then of Honeyglazed) challenges Superhoney, Honey & the Bees, and HoneyWest to a bowling match to keep the name. T Max suggests Beer Chess instead.
#186, Nov 1998, in which Kim Morbey writes a comprehensive two-page review of Boston Rock Opera’s Perseveration.
#187, Dec 1998, in which the letters column contains a rally to remove “so called writer” Joe Coughlin, citing “I knew the real Joe Coughlin. Joe Coughlin was a friend of mine. This guy is no Joe Coughlin.” The letter is signed, “Joe Coughlin.”
#191, May 1999, in which T Max is officially on a tear about censorship when one of his distro locations objects to a porn star in a band ad. Yes, The Syphlloids again. (Same issue, a letter from Rockets Burst from the Streetlamps starts a letter-war that would wage for many Noise issues to come).
Oh man, I could list best-of moments all day but I’m running out of space already! What about the one where Corin “always stuck a funny phrase here” Ashley wrote a one-word CD review reading simply: “Suckodyne.” Or the one in which Mike Baldino did a whole big profile on the rockin’ women behind the scenes!? What about the one where Beverage broke up and wrote us a letter saying that it’s the fault of their fans for not coming out to more shows? And the Dubrow/ Coughlin letter war! And the one with our butts when me and T Max sat on the photocopier! Wait, T Max, Rita, Lolita, there’s too much in 1996–2000 to fit into just two pages! PLEASE, I need more spa—
THE Golden Age
by Steve Gisselbrecht
I’ve been living in Boston and seeing live music here for almost twenty years now. The last five years have been a really great time for Boston music, just like the five before them, the five before those, and so on. One constant through all this has been the wealth of great bands in pretty much any genre or sub-genre you’d care to name. Another has been the presence of people bitching about how the Boston music scene today is pathetic compared to the way it was in [insert bitching person’s chosen Golden Age here—if I wanted to be cynical about it, I’d say to insert time period corresponding to bitching person’s early 20s here]. And I can easily understand why some people look at the present only to long for the past. I, too, look back wistfully at bands and venues from, well, the late ’80s to mid-’90s. (When I was in… hmmm… my early 20s.) I miss the Channel and Bunratty’s. I miss Throwing Muses and Concussion Ensemble. And yes, damn it, I miss the Rat.
But, as a fan of live local music, I don’t miss the space downstairs from TT’s being a bowling alley, and I certainly don’t miss Great Scott-as-scary-BU-pickup-bar. And as I looked over the covers of The Noise from the last five years, this is what struck me most about the current state of the Boston music scene: the constant ferment of band breakups and venue closures is the raw material and driving force for people to get together in new configurations and make new things happen.
Case in point: an issue from 2002 had Neptune, The Halogens, and Bleu on the cover. Bleu is still making music, but has left Boston for sunnier shores (joining Paula Kelley and Helicopter Helicopter, to name just two recent LA-bound emigrés). The Halogens are no more, but many of their songs live on. The Luxury recombines elements of that band with new musical voices, and the result is excellent. And Neptune has been through a lineup change and a reorganization of their sound and instrumentation, and have come out the other side with the strongest batch of songs they’ve ever written, a fantastic new full-length album, a rabid local fan base, and perhaps even a bit of a “growing buzz,” whatever that is. Being asked to open for Mission of Burma has to count as buzz. And no discussion of great new things coming from the ashes of the old in this new millennium would be complete without a mention of Burma, whose reunion could have been a brief, nostalgic lark, and instead turned out to be the beginning of a powerful, vital, and hopefully long-lasting second career.
Count Zero also appears on a recent cover (T Max really seems to love this band, for some reason). This is another band in flux, weathering a whole series of lineup changes and continuing to produce interesting new music for their devoted fans. For that matter, this is another demonstration of our losses setting the stage for our gains: without the breakup of Think Tree, painful though that was, we wouldn’t have had Bongo Fury or Count Zero. The phenomenon repeats itself over and over: All the Queen’s Men are gone, but Ziaf appears. Officer May gets a new sound and becomes Dirty Holiday. Cancer to the Stars gives way to a profusion of Ryan Lee projects. And if we hadn’t lost Green Magnet School and Kudgel, we might never have heard the grim beauty of Black Helicopter. These guys have a gorgeous new record; you don’t have to take my word for it, but I hope you’ll trust Thurston Moore, who signed them to Ecstatic Peace just before it became part of Universal. So now Black Helicopter is on a major label, sort of, and no one is more surprised than they are (except perhaps the bean counters at Universal, if any of them have heard any Black Helicopter).
And speaking of major labels, let’s talk about The Dresden Dolls, who’ve appeared on THREE Noise covers in the last five years. (The middle one was for winning the Rumble in 2003.) I have loved this band since they were playing house parties and the Lizard Lounge, so it has been a joy to watch them blow up, becoming known outside of Boston and getting signed to Roadrunner Records. (Kind of an odd fit, really, and I’m betting they haven’t hung out with a lot of their labelmates.) This band’s detractors are almost as passionate as their fans, to the point that Amanda Palmer bitterly namechecks the Noise Board in the song “Backstabber.” But selling out 2000-seaters in Salt Lake City, touring Europe and Australia, opening for Nine Inch Nails, and meeting David Bowie probably take a lot of the sting out of those barbed comments. Boston is sort of famous for sending its talent out to fly and fall on the big stage, but I wish for better things for the Dolls.
One of these rags-to-riches-to-rags stories is compellingly told in Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be, the product of another transformation and reinvention. Jen Trynin tried being a solo act, fronting a band, playing in someone else’s band, and now she’s come back as an author. For several of the last five years she played in Loveless, but it was as a frontwoman that she experienced the rock ’n’ roll rollercoaster, being wooed and then spurned by all manner of big shots. This is the story she relates in her book, and while it’s a sad story, it’s both edifying and engaging. It should be required reading for any musician who dreams of “making it.”
I don’t want to give the impression that everything good in Boston music is recycled, because of course there are wonderful new people and projects coming along all the time. Humanwine is a great example; their core members moved to Boston and started the band fresh, and have captured a whole lot of (well-deserved) attention in a very short time. Amoroso is a very young, very new band that I like a lot. The members of Harris, Faces on Film, Paper Thin Stages, and my beloved Tristan da Cunha (to name just a few) are all playing in their first Boston bands. Plus some reinventions are so complete as to constitute new beginnings: who could have imagined, seeing the Abbey Lounge five years ago, the clean, airy, great-sounding room it has become? (I think the graffito in the renovated men’s room says it best: “This is like the Taj Fuckin’ Mahal!”) And I have to mention Great Scott again, which is a welcome and terrific-sounding addition to Boston’s live music venues.
Nor do I want to be Pollyanna here; Boston has lost some wonderful people, places, and things. It was a sad day for Boston music when Lilli Dennison moved away, and the property at 608 Somerville Ave. that she tried so hard to make work for so long is no longer a rock club of any form. Nor can I really consider the Wonder Bar a fitting successor to the institutions that used to occupy that space. (Let’s just not even talk about Kenmore Square, shall we?) And while I don’t want to start listing the real, irremediable losses we’ve suffered (because I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out), the death of Mikey Dee in 2003 was a horrible blow.
I’ve been in this sad, valedictory mood lately, because it seems like suddenly a whole slew of great local bands are breaking up, moving away, or both: Wildlife moving to San Francisco, Spheres and Exultation of Larks calling it quits, Big Bear losing John McWilliams and giving up their old material. And (most painful for me) Night Rally breaking up and Luke Kirkland moving away. But, once again, this is part of a constant cycle of change, the ecology of a music scene, and that’s the thing to focus on. Now I’ll get to see what these amazing musicians come up with in their NEXT bands.