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When I checked in with Lost City Angels late last year, they were in the midst of beer-fueled sessions at Cambridge, Massachusettsís Camp Street Studios for their big-label debut. Amplifiers roared, lyrics that sounded like diary entries hit the tape, and they played like the bad-asses they are, with blazing guitar licks, dynamics-rich rhythms, and vocal lines that balanced passion and melody. It augured the emergence of a punk-rock band with their own viewpoint and a style based as much on the tics of classic rock as on the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, but twining the tendrils of vintage metal and boogie invisibly within the fabric of their songs. Yet those blasts from the past, even as the tunes were in progress, created a sense of space that gave their lyrics breathing room and their grooves depth.
Now Broken World (Stay Gold) is out, and so are the Angels, ricocheting about the country in a van on a tour that will bring them home this Saturday to play Boston's Axis with headliners Tiger Army and fellow Bostonians the Unseen. They had reached El Paso, where they were enjoying a rare day off on a tour with Catch 22, Donít Look Down, and Spittlefield, when I caught up with them. "In the studio making Broken World, we were thinking. ĎOh God, people are gonna hate us,í " drummer Adam Shaw recalled. "But on the first show, people who had never seen us before were going nuts. It was awesome! Now, after nearly a month on the road, we may be exhausted beyond belief and our livers are failing, but we are so happy because the kids weíre meeting understand it. Weíve always had a broad spectrum of musical tastes and styles that we draw on, but we wanted everybody to pick up on the songs and where weíre coming from, because the topics we write about are important to us. Theyíre a form of therapy for the band members. Seeing everybody get so deep into the songs when we play makes us feel like maybe weíre doing something right."
Indeed, with lyrics about spiritual disappointment and betrayal, Lost City Angels are doing a lot thatís right in Broken World. Wed those messages to the guitar riffs of Nick Bacon and Drew Suxx needling and weaving through the mix, to Shawís power and control and bassist Dugganís drive, and to Ron Ragonaís tough-but-measured vocal delivery and you have one of the best albums thatíll come out of the city this year.
So far, 2005 has been a big one for Bostonís punk-rock scene. Dropkick Murphys threw a bigger party than ever for St. Patrickís Day. Broken World follows Street Dogsí exceptional Back to the World (Brass Tacks), and it joined Darkbusterís bloody-knuckled A Weakness for Spirits (Jittery Jack) in early-April release. But donít tell Shaw that says something about "the scene." "That word Ďsceneí is like something that Red Bull wants to cram down everybodyís throat. Itís like a sales pitch, and it just divides people and music, and itís confusing. Thereís already too much of that in the world. Lost City Angels isnít a banner on a Web site trying to sell CDs. Itís not some kind of industry-driven corporate product. And I donít think of myself as part of a scene. Being in this band, working at the Middle East when Iím home, hanging out with other musicians and having a few beers isnít a scene. Itís my life."
And life for the Angels, at least as lived in the wash of stage lights and heavy amplification, is just getting better. "Weíre really getting in tune with each other as musicians and pushing a lot harder when we play," says Ragona. "I mean, we were already in tune with each other, but now itís really jelled. Things get so powerful on stage, I go into a trance sometimes when weíre all feeling it and going for it." Theyíve also taken to passing around an acoustic guitar in the van, during roadside stops, and while waiting their turn for soundchecks, to develop new songs.
But life as a Lost City Angel ainít all hard work. At Camp Street studios, you could see that they like to have a good time. And thatís true on the road, too, even with the all-night drives. "Iíd like to say weíre not drinking a lot," says Ragona, "but I have to say we are. You start the day saying youíre not gonna have a drink, and the next thing you know itís four in the morning and thereís bottles on the floor."
Recently they had a boozy reunion with Dicky Barrett, the Bosstones frontman, on Tattoo Tuesday, his popular morning radio show on LAís Indie 103.1. Which explains Ragonaís new arm inking of an old-school microphone with a devilís tail. "Everybody had partied the night before at the guitar player from Flogging Mollyís birthday party ó except me. I stayed in," says Shaw. "But by 7 a.m., I had a shot of Patron in me, Ronnie had a margarita, and Duggan had three." "I got to the station at six in the morning," says Ragona. "I saw a bottle of tequila and the tattoo artist, Rockfish, with his needles and moustache and bald head, and figured, why not?"
JUST BECAUSE a sharp young breed of Boston punk bands like Lost City Angels is making important noise doesnít mean the old guardís inactive. In fact, its supreme commander, Willie Alexander, has a new album that rekindles the fire of his mid-í70s days with the Boom Boom Band. Dog Bar Yacht Club (Fish Eye; visit www.williealexander.com) reunites Alexander and the original members of the group he led 25 years ago. And the damn thing rocks.
The reunion started in 2003, after Japanís Captain Trips label put out a live 1976 recording of Willie and the Boom Booms that prompted them to assemble to hash over old times. Soon they were playing, and since Alexander is always writing new songs, nature took its course. "We didnít even remember why we broke up, although it was probably the usual artistic-differences crap," Alexander says over the phone from his Gloucester home. "We wanted to see how it felt to play again. This was the first band where I was frontman, and I was basically out of my mind at the time ó a horrible rock-and-roll drunk. I think everybodyís playing better now, and we donít have all the drugs and alcohol to befuddle the situation. I havenít had a drink since 1985. Before that, I had 20 or 30 years of solid drinking, so there were no new avenues to explore."
Pianist Willie and the original Boom Booms, guitarist Billy Loosigian, bassist Sev Grossman, and drummer David McLean, do sound terrific on Dog Bar Yacht Club. Especially Loosigian, a world-class guitarist with a big tone and a snarling way of phrasing that recalls the best six-stringers of the British Invasionís second wave. Whatís most exciting, though, is the spontaneity in its grooves. Alexander credits David Minehan, who produced the disc with the band. But Willie has always had the heart of a poet and an improviser, and it beats strong behind this music. "What I donít like about rock bands is once you have the arrangements, everybody wants them to stay the same. The good thing about these tunes is that Billy didnít record the rehearsals like the other guys did, so when we got into the studio, he didnít remember the keys we played them in and some of the other parts, so I could change them back to the way they started."
The CD is mostly a song cycle inspired by the people and places of Alexanderís home town. The opening "Gravelly Hill" borrows its lyrics from Charles Olson, the poet who made Gloucester his home. The protagonist of "High Tide Heroes" vows to a would-be sweetheart that "Iíd walk the greasy pole just for you," invoking a tradition from Gloucesterís summer festivals involving a horizontal telephone pole covered with grease, the ocean, and guys who think walking said pole without falling into the drink is a test of manhood. "Fred Buckís Footsteps" is an ode to now-retired local postman Buck, who walked Gloucesterís streets for 30 years. Alexander improvised the colorful and inspired lyrics, and Loosigianís guitar erupts from the knotty, winding arrangement.
Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band have played about six shows since they reunited, and theyíre contemplating a tour of Europe, where for decades Willie has had a cult following. And though Alexander and Loosigian continue to play with other outfits, for now theyíre planning to stick together. "Itís nothing we ever discuss," Willie says, "but somebody said it best when they told Billy, ĎYou guys are still alive. You should do more gigs.í "
Lost City Angels perform this Saturday, April 23, at Axis, 13 Lansdowne Street in Boston, with Tiger Army and the Unseen; call (617) 262-2437, or visit www.ticketmaster.com
Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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