By Adam McGrath
Long after the lights went up at Union Transfer Monday night, Dicky Barrett continued to make his way to each and every fan who lingered in front of the stage for an autograph or picture. The leader of seminal ska-punk band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Barrett has kept plenty of the Massachusetts attitude that put his band on the map 20-plus years ago, but it’s clear that a sincere appreciation for his friends and fans has smoothed out a once-rough exterior.
Blending punk and hardcore with horns and dance moves, the Bosstones were at the forefront of the ska revival in the late 1990s, breaking through to the mainstream with their album Let’s Face It and the canon-defining song “The Impression That I Get”. Some people at the show Monday night might have been there for that song alone, but most of the all ages crowd had a vocal appreciation for the deeper cuts and newer material alike.
Throughout the band’s three-decade history, it has survived lineup changes and hiatuses (remember Barrett as the announcer on Jimmy Kimmel Live!?), but something keeps bringing these boys back together for smaller tours and one-off appearances like their legendary Hometown Throwdown. The current lineup does feature several original members: Joe Gittleman on bass, Tim Burton on saxophone, and of course, the dancing Bosstone himself, Ben Carr. Additionally, members like drummer Joe Sirois, saxophonist Kevin Lenear, guitarist Lawrence Katz, and trombonist Chris Rhodes have long-established relationships with the group. If you really dive into it, it’s amazing how many of these musicians have made the rounds to other bands like Spring Heeled Jack and The Toasters. Each brings something special to the Bosstones, and together, it’s one hell of a show.
The band’s 90-minute set gave us a little bit of everything, and the stage show was perfectly polished, with each member getting a spot to shine. Rhodes impressed with his energetic vocals, Carr tirelessly bounced around the stage, and even Barrett got his knees in the air and wiggled his butt as he stripped off his sweaty suit piece by piece. Barrett’s trademark gravel-laden voice held up fine, but lyrics were a little hard to discern at times. The music was super tight, as you would expect, with different songs spanning the range of harder punk chords to light-hearted unison of brass and woodwinds.
Highlights of the set for me included opener “I Want My City Back”, “Someday I Suppose”, “Don’t Worry Desmond Dekker”, and of course, “Rascal King” and “Impression”. A double encore brought the excellent old-school track “Hope I Never Lose My Wallet” and a sexy jam of “Chocolate Pudding” with Burton on the mic. And I shouldn’t forget to mention a cover of The Clash’s classic “Rudie Can’t Fail” featuring Kevin Bivona from opening act The Interrupters.
Speaking of opening acts, in addition to Bivona’s California quartet, which features Aimee Allen on vocals and taps into the Tim Armstrong punk ethos, the Bosstones brought their friends in Street Dogs on tour with them this time around.
Led by singer Mike McColgan, well known as a founding member of Dropkick Murphys, Street Dogs run deep with Boston punk roots. With Johnny Rioux, Matt Pruitt, Pete Sosa, and Lenny Lashley rounding out the lineup, Street Dogs also had plenty of fans in the crowd. McColgan impressed me with his passion and vocal range, as he hit the high notes as well as any punk singer I can recall, and climbed down to the crowd several times to clasp hands and lean on them as he worked the room. The band’s songs addressed personal relationships and city pride with unapologetic emotion, and they even answered a fan’s repeated call for a Darkbuster tune to end their set.
Here in 2015, bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones don’t need to impress anyone anymore. They spearheaded a huge trend that has run its course, leaving the originators to carry the torch for the music they clearly love. And with the added appreciation that comes with time, the band and its fans will keep on dancing for years to come.