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{November 28, 2012}   The Orpheum Theater, Boston

Orpheum Theater, Boston

Orpheum Theater, Boston

Deciding to become a volunteer usher at the Orpheum Theater after my first season at Concerts on the Common was one of the best decisions I ever made. Julie and I decided when we started there to branch out and make other friends (we spent so much time together). We picked different aisles to work so we could meet new people; it was healthy and exciting. (Little did I know that working there would be my ONLY social life at times.)

If you read its history, the theater is quite old. Some performers liked that aspect…I overheard some call it a dump. If you take a look on the Orpheum official web site, there’s a list of the shows scrolling on the right-hand side by date. I love that they have this so I can remember it all. I saw so many bands over the years, and also some comedians and oddball events: even a wedding! (Two of the ushers who met there, got married there.)

Orpheum wedding

Orpheum wedding

My husband used to say that we saw “bands on the way up and bands on the way down.”  This was because of the size of the venue: not a club, but a small theater seating approximately 2800 (this is a generous estimate). It seemed like there were always broken seats. They were pretty difficult to repair after a time…too many holes drilled over and over in the wooden backs of the same ancient velvet seats; I always pitied the maintenance guy working with all those old bits and pieces.

But the Orpheum has great acoustics. Many live shows were recorded there during my time including James Taylor and the Allman Brothers (we called them the “house band” because they played there so often).

Allman Brothers Live at the Orpheum

Allman Brothers Live at the Orpheum

As volunteer ushers, we finished working officially not too long after the headline band began to play. Once we were “released” everyone would scramble to find a seat on the aisle steps in the mezzanine — the best place to see the show. You were close to the stage, but with an unobstructed view from above. And structurally it was designed to “give” or move, which made it an adventure sitting there for some shows. You could “feel” the music. When the B52’s played there and everyone was dancing, some people were frightened because you could actually see the mezzanine moving up and down. You could barely walk from one side to the other in a straight line; it was like trying to walk on a wave-tossed boat.

And it had that old smell — like mustiness, sweat, and old beer. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the old place.



{November 17, 2012}   More About the Music

After finishing my “Fan’s History” series, I have been thinking hard about what to tackle next: an alphabet of favorite authors…an alphabet of favorite plants…but none of those ideas were sucking me into a vortex of passion.

So I guess I will go back to music. After my club scene days, I worked as an usher/usher supervisor/head usher for a variety of venues. There are many more music stories to write! For many years I had the idea in my head to write a screenplay for a comedy series about my ushering days, but I don’t have the foggiest idea how to do that, and the more time goes by, the blurrier the stories get. So maybe I’ll just begin…

Concerts on the Common "apron"

Concerts on the Common “apron”

When I donned the red apron of a volunteer usher for Concerts on the Common (yes I still have it…I’m a terrible packrat), I had no idea how much it would change my life and where it would lead. Until that time, my musical interests were pretty limited. As a child I loved show tunes because my parents owned LPs of some of the most common ones: South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and Sound of Music. As a result, I was in chorus and drama all through school…never a star, just a member of the crowd. Then came my friendship with Eric and Jane, when I became a fan of Punk, New Wave and Rock…still pretty limited. Concerts on the Common changed my musical tastes forever. The concerts covered the range of music genres — jazz, folk, blues, rock and pop. From Joni Mitchell to George Benson, from the Village People to BB King to Julio Iglesias, I worked them all and discovered that I really loved music.

As I wrote this, I searched the Internet for some great links relating to what I saw, but there was surprisingly little. I found a few blogs where people actually said, “Does anyone remember Concerts on the Common?” Not much beyond that. For those who don’t know about it: an area of the Boston Common was sectioned off for the summer and folding chairs were set up for the audience. This was long before venues like Great Woods or Harbor Lights (now under other names) were built. There certainly was something different about watching a concert outdoors in the middle of the city with a squirrel running up a tree right next to you. Unfortunately, it only lasted a few years before the neighbors’ complaints about the noise put a stop to it.

My friend Julie worked at a law firm in downtown Boston with a woman who, along with her husband, were in charge of the volunteer ushers for these concerts. (I still remember their first names: Elise and Dan, but very little beyond that.) She asked Julie if she was interested and Julie asked me — Hell, yes!  I don’t remember how it happened but we pretty much immediately started hanging out with a group of ushers that included an usher supervisor who later became the head usher for the Orpheum Theater, taking it over from Elise and Dan. I remember him taking a small group of us backstage after the Peter, Paul and Mary show for a piece of the Puff the Magic dragon cake they had in honor of the 20th anniversary of the song. I remember that The Thompson Twins wouldn’t let the ushers hang out for sound check, in contrast to Huey Lewis who talked to us and took requests! I remember the screaming of the women and tossing of bras and panties for Engelbert Humperdinck and Julio Iglesias shows. And watching a whole audience of people try to do the YMCA dance was a trip! There are personal memories of the time too; during that time I dated a Berkeley student who went on to publish trivia books on music and write for national publications. I wish I remembered more, but I’m getting to that age…

When the summer season ended in 1982, my new friends asked us to work concerts at the Orpheum for the winter. I was hooked!




Yanni. Seriously? I couldn’t come up with a “y” entry Boston band for the life of me, but I do have a Yanni story.

I have mentioned in some of my other posts that I worked at concerts for 15 years as an usher/usher supervisor/head usher at various venues. During those years I saw a variety of musical acts, including some bands or performers I would never have bought a ticket to see, but ended up enjoying.

Yanni was one of those performers. I had seen his special on PBS so I knew that I enjoyed listening to his music; I found it uplifting and emotional. My husband-to-be was also working that night at the Orpheum theater taking tickets at the door. Of course the workers had to be there before the doors opened to the public. Sometimes if we were lucky, we saw sound check; if we were REALLY lucky, the performers would be wandering around the theater. My fiance and I were standing in the lobby before the doors opened, talking to a friend who I had brought to the show as a guest usher. Suddenly my love whispered, “Do you want to meet Yanni?”

With a quizzical look I said, “What?”

“Turn around now,” he whispered, which I did and came face to face with Yanni! And I mean literally, face to face! I am a short woman (5 ft 2 in before I shrunk), and he couldn’t have been more than an inch taller than me! I have to say he was a handsome man — what incredible eyes. I said “hello,” he said “hello” and walked on. My face stayed red for quite a while.

A bit later, my husband-to-be got his thrill. Yanni was dating Linda Evans at the time. She came right in the front door, in high heels and dressed to kill. As short as Yanni was, she was extremely tall, especially with the heels. So my husband came face-to-face with…her generous chest.  He and his friend at the door couldn’t stop talking about it after the show…their terrific vantage point and how gorgeous she was.

Oh, and the show was fabulous — a memorable night.




some of my XTC singles

some of my XTC singles

The letter “X” seems almost impossible, yet there were two 80’s bands I liked that I can mention here. Unfortunately neither are from Boston:  the LA band, “X” and one of my favorite bands of all time, the British band XTC. I agreed with a comment I saw posted on one of the web sites I visited with a discussion of XTC: a first listen to each of their albums would initially bring disappointment, which would then be followed by a liking of certain songs, and then a discovery of new gems, finally ending up with adoration and proclamations of “genius!”

In 1982, they were booked to play The Channel. I was so excited that I would finally see one of my favorite bands. But it was not to be. The gig (and tour) was cancelled due to Andy Partridge’s mysterious “illness’ that later turned out to be debilitating stage fright. I was SO disappointed; to this day, I regret I did not discover them early enough to have seen them.

I think Andy Partridge’s lyrics are some of the best ever written, though they can also be very offputting for some people (as he himself can be…read this 2009  interview and some of the comments”). The most “mainstream”  but controversial song they ever wrote was probably “Dear God.” It caused quite a hubbub at the time it came out, with some radio stations banning it. I have to say though, there a quite a few other gems that were “B” sides on some of the singles (“Love on a Farmboy’s Wages”), like “Toys” and deep cuts on albums like “Your Dictionary” (another controversial anti-religious song) and “Wrapped in Gray.”

I can’t recommend enough that you check them out. There are quite a few videos on YouTube (also their alterego, Dukes of Stratosphere)!

 




By the time I saw Willie Alexander, he had been around the Boston scene for 15 years. I knew his songs “Mass Ave” and “Kerouac” from the “Live at the Rat – 1976” album. We went to see him because he was one of Eric’s favorites.

On the AllMusic web site bio, they say he is known as the answer to the trivia question: “Who took Lou Reed’s place in The Velvet Underground?” But Willie is so much more than the answer to a rock trivia question. The most common word I saw used when researching this post was “survivor” because of the number of years he has been involved in music in the Boston area (over 30 years). But in the 80’s, Willie was also incredibly popular in France, so it isn’t only in Boston that we know of “Willie Loco.” His albums were released on the New Rose label. The single, “Gin” shown in my photo was more popular in France than in the US.

I have the Mass Ave cd, which features Willie’s song, and I believe somewhere I have the “Live at the Rat” LP, but my albums are packed away and I can’t get to them. I did manage to dig up a couple of singles I bought on sale at Strawberries for inclusion in this post. Kind of sad to see the price of $.19, but most people who ever saw him would say his performances were priceless.




Let’s face it, the letter “V” is a tough one– even trying to think of national bands is tough (the one-hit wonders The Vapors came to my mind). So I opted for Mike Viola who I think I probably saw once, opening for someone else I liked. He got a bit of press in the 80’s Boston Music Scene because of his age at the time (14 years old). Boy’s Life and The Outlets had been there before him (though they were not quite as young), but achieved more success at that time.

My reaction back then mirrored music writer Brett Milano’s as he expressed it in his 1996 article.  (I mentioned before I wasn’t a Stompers fan.) Beyond his age, he just wasn’t memorable for me. With research, I did find a blog with some Mike Viola and the Snap music.

A funny thing happened as I researched Mike Viola for this post…He interested me! One of the things I learned was that he wrote songs for and sang the title track for Tom Hanks’ 1996 movie, “That Thing You Do!” He also wrote songs for Russell Brand’s movie, “Get Him to the Greek.”

I listened to a series of songs on YouTube. I’m an 80’s power pop girl at heart, and he really fits the bill. I can see critics saying his music is rather derivative and generic (listening to Strawberry Blonde I actually heard a little XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton” kind of sound, but then, I always loved THAT band), but it is fun music.

And to think I could have seen him way back when…




There actually was a Boston Band beginning with U: Unnatural Axe.  Although I knew of them (they had a sort of “legendary” status–there was a documentary movie made about them), I never saw them. I became a fan of Richie Parsons later; I saw him in the band Future Dads (Lee Harrington from the Neighborhoods was also in that band). I was always amazed and honored when I purchased records or cds at Newbury Comics and he was at the register!

That being said, I’m going to cheat again and talk about U2. Boston was their home away from home in the beginning of the career before they became successful worldwide. I never got to see them perform at any of the small clubs in town, but I did get the chance to see them talk up close and personal at the Paradise. My roommate Julie had a U2 fanzine (with a friend from Chicago). When the band was filming their documentary, “Rattle and Hum,” they set up a press conference with their fanzine authors/editors. Julie had two tickets; because Lisa lived in Chicago, she couldn’t go, so Julie took me as her “photographer.” Although they never used any of the footage in the documentary, it was SO exciting to be there!

Adam, The Edge, and Larry were there for quite a while, but no Bono. The audience was a little nervous and distracted, I think, wondering when and if he would show up. Maybe that’s why the footage wasn’t what the director had envisioned. Then…there he was, arm in a sling, from dislocating it during a concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC a couple nights before (September 20, 1987). So…my photo has some “historical” significance after all, I guess.




I have so many Trademark stories…way too many for this post. They were definitely a “go-to” band for Jane and me; we went to see them just about every weekend for a while. We eventually got to know them and thought they were a great bunch of guys. Not too long after we started seeing them, I bestowed upon them my ultimate compliment: I drew a picture of them; like the Atlantics, they signed it for me.

Right from the start, there was this “meant to be” kind of vibe. We discovered them because Jane worked with the sister of the guitarist, Matt Langone. Jane didn’t know her well, but when she mentioned her brother’s band was playing in Randolph and that she was going to see them, we decided to check them out. We loved them right away: great harmonies, great danceable songs, and LOTS of energy. We were hooked! I don’t remember ever seeing Matt’s sister again, but I’m happy she gave us the impetus to see the band.

Then there was someone Eric knew who knew the keyboard player, Jack Moran. She brought me into the dressing room at a gig and introduced me to him. I don’t recall her name or if I ever saw her again either.

Then came the final coincidence. I became friends with a girl named Julie who worked in the same building I did. I introduced her to Jane and we all became friends. Soon after that, Julie started dating a guy in a band. Lo and behold, her boyfriend was a drummer in a band whose guitarist was the cousin of The Trademarks’ bass player, Rick Hollowell. They played together a couple of times, including a gig at a frat party, and a gig at BC (not events we would have found in The Phoenix). We became official “followers.” We knew the band member’s girlfriends too (not well…I don’t think they really liked any of the girls that followed the band), and it turned out to be a very fun time in our lives. There are lots of personal stories I won’t get into here, but we were depressed and aimless for a while after they decided to break up the band. 

Fast forward to the present: the lead singer, Dave Morrison is a poet. He published a book of poems called “Clubland” about his experiences playing with The Trademarks and other bands; one of his poems was read by Garrison Keillor on his radio program. Matt still plays in a band called the Trash Mavericks.

I will always be rooting for their success.




Now I know I should say The Stompers but, similar to my experience with the Fools, I never really liked them. They always struck me as arrogant, and yet, they are obviously talented or they wouldn’t be still at it.

No, I’m choosing a short-lived band I went to see several times called the Sex-Execs (great gig memory: Sex Execs and Lou Miami at the In-Square Men’s Bar).

I found two of their songs on YouTube:  “My Ex”  and Tami-itis. They really did dress in suits like on the photo at the left and the “My Ex” video. They made very danceable music, and they had a saxophone and a harmonica! Great stuff!

I found this brief Sex Execs history on the web site for saxophonist Ed GershonGershon was quickly inducted into the Boston power pop/soul/punk band the Sex Execs in 1982. The Sex Execs included guitarist/saxophonist/double-visionary Sean Slade and bassist/producer Paul Kolderie, who have gone on to produce dozens of rock hits, including the recent “God Bless the Go-Gos.” Also aboard was harmonica wiz Jim Fitting (later of Treat Her Right and The The), and drummer Jerome Deupree. According to Wikipedia, musician/producer Joe Harvard and members of the Sex Execs, engineers Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade, and Jim Fitting built Fort Apache Studios as a collective in 1985. 

Not sure I would really call them “punk”, but I agree with the “power pop/soul” part of the description. Listening to their music now, there are elements of other 80’s bands like ABC. And yet, their image preceded the early 90’s lounge revival that produced bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers.

The band was a finalist in the 1983 WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble. Unfortunately for them, they were up against Aimee Mann (who I LOVE) and “Til Tuesday, who would go on to be signed to a major label contract and achieve national success.




Rings at Uncle Sam’s in 1981

Uncle Sam’s was definitely one of my go-to destinations when I first started hitting the clubs. As a South Shore suburban girl, I hadn’t yet graduated to going to the clubs in Boston. Uncle Sam’s often booked bands that were “local” yet “national” –bands from the area that had major label contracts: Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (which I also could have featured here for “R”, but I didn’t have any photos), The Atlantics, and of course The Rings and Private Lightning. The latter two were on the downward slope by the time I was going to see them. Their major label LPs were not selling as well as their record companies had hoped, and it seemed large-scale fame had passed them by.

The Rings got airplay with the song, “Let Me Go”, but I loved the whole album and played it to death. One of my favorite songs was “Who’s She Going Dancing With.” I couldn’t help but get up and dance to that one! And listen to “Love’s Not Safe” from the second album and tell me you don’t want to dance! Watching the video for “Let Me Go” and listening to some of the music, in retrospect I am struck by how similar the vocal style is to Ric Ocasek from The Cars (and the clothes style too).

While researching for this post I found a blog about The Rings that I think does them better justice than I can. (If you’d like a little history of the band, check out this link.) I loved reading the comments on the blog — like most of the people who wrote them, I feel privileged to have seen The Rings play. The band was TIGHT and professional and great LIVE.

As I chose and scanned these two photos I had taken a year apart, it struck me how in the second photo the band looks relaxed and seems to be having a good time. The difference in Michael Baker’s clothes also fascinated me. The outfit in the first photo seems so calculated to be cool and SO 80’s; I think the t-shirt and jeans in the second photo suit him much more.

The Rings at Uncle Sam’s 1982

Michael Baker ended up doing a lot of producing. And proof of how small the Boston Music Scene was back then: the guitarist for The Rings, Mark Sutton (right front in the photo below) ended up playing with Dave Morrison (I’ll talk about him in my post for the letter “T”) in a band called True Blue.



et cetera
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