“I miss big shows for sure, but I love the feel of a full house in a small room.”
It seems like a lifetime ago when you could just head to one of your favorite venues, buy a ticket, and go see a band rock the stage while being surrounded by others. It was something that a lot of us used to do and for a good amount of us it became woven into the fabric of our identity while we became part of a community.
Today, that notion sounds like something from a different world or at the very least the distant past, as the music industry faces countless uncertainties going forward. Nevertheless, to celebrate establishments that have given us so many such joyful experiences, stakeholders dubbed the last week of October Independent Venue Week. The online events, which feature live and prerecorded performances and an auction, all benefit the National Independent Venue Association’s Emergency Relief Fund to help venues that desperately need financial assistance during these unprecedented times. The work will continue indefinitely beyond this month, and so we asked some scenesters with serious skin in the game for their thoughts on the situation.
Within Boston and the surrounding cities and towns, the absence of live music makes for a deep scar. For decades, Boston has had one of the best music scenes on the planet with a history that very few cities can match. The scene is still going strong despite COVID-19 shifting it in different directions, but without places to play nobody knows what will come of the future. Will there even be a scene?
One of the bright spots in this dark era is Great Scott, which found a new home in the former home of Pizzeria Regina at 353 Cambridge St. in Allston after losing its original location at 1222 Comm Ave. Reflecting on times before the pandemic, talent buyer Carl Lavin recalled some classic moments.
“One of the most memorable times I’ve ever had at Great Scott was a show with [New York City noise rock act] A Place To Bury Strangers and the December Sound, a criminally underrated Boston band, in 2005,” Lavin said. “There was a pretty strong snowstorm that night and I alerted A Place To Bury Strangers that they might not want to bother coming up to Boston as we might not do the show. They said they were already in town and were down to play, and the same went for the December Sound so we just went for it, which in hindsight was pretty irresponsible.
“We probably ended up with about 25 people who soldiered the storm to show up and the vibe of everybody in it together against the elements was so strong. Those bands probably melted the parking spaces out front when they played, and it was as unique an experience as I’ve had during all the time booking shows at Great Scott and certainly one I’ll never forget.”
Continuing the reminiscing of times at Great Scott, Welcome To Hell World writer and vocalist for the Boston alternative rock group No Hope / No Harm Luke O’Neil couldn’t narrow his favorite memory down to just one.
“As I wrote recently in Hell World about the [supposed] demise of Great Scott, trying to narrow down a best show is impossible,” said O’Neil, who is also a former Dig editor. “I’ve been trying to think about some of the best and worst nights of my life, many of which began or ended at Great Scott, and I simply can’t narrow it down for some reason. It’s like there’s too much static to cut through to find a clean signal. It’s like spending a gorgeous day in the ocean many years ago that you generally remember fondly and trying to call to mind right now one specific single wave that buoyed you and a second wave that knocked you over. After a while all the waves become impossible to differentiate from one another and it all flattens out into sensory noise.
“That said, [my favorite show I ever saw in Boston] is probably some combination of a show with Piebald, Converge, and Cave In somewhere along the way at TT the Bear’s or some place.”
TT the Bear’s, once located at 10 Brookline St. in Cambridge, was home to countless incredible shows during its 30-plus years of business before closing in 2015. For yours truly, the last show that I ever saw there was in 2014, with New Jersey punk trio Screaming Females headlining a stacked bill with Nashville garage rockers Pujol and local punks Mean Creek and the Young Leaves.
TT’s also hosted the legendary Rock & Roll Rumble for generations. Started by the legendary Boston rock radio station WBCN and absorbed by WZLX after that, the massive showdown was the center of the universe for Anngelle Wood, longtime host of the show Boston Emissions, as well as former WBCN DJ Adam 12, who currently handles the 11 am to 4 pm slot on Rock 92.9 FM.
“During my years at WBCN I loved hosting, judging, and attending the Rumble,” Adam 12 said. “Spending the month of April at venues like TT the Bear’s and Harpers Ferry, which is now Brighton Music Hall, and taking in sets from some of the best bands in Boston was always a highlight. Anngelle Wood has kept the Rumble going in recent years at ONCE in Somerville, and I’m very much looking forward to what she has in store once live music can safely return.”
Obviously I’m not gonna talk about the Rumble without asking Wood for her thoughts on the event and missing live music in general.
“We didn’t get to celebrate [the Rumble] this year … and I feel it,” Wood said. “Rumble shows are different than any [others]—the bands are in peak form, the vibe is electric, the crowds are into it, and there’s a lot of love. For the past few years, ONCE Ballroom in Somerville has been our home after TT the Bear’s closed for the past few years, and it is one of the many rooms around the country that is suffering badly. …
“I miss big shows for sure, but I love the feel of a full house in a small room. … That’s what makes the city special, our independent venues. I don’t know what the future holds, but it needs to include our independent venues. We cannot pretend to be a world-class city without them.”
As for favorite shows, ONCE owner JJ Gonson doesn’t have just one. Also a longtime music photographer, she highlighted a whole year.
“Eskimeaux, Free Cake for Every Creature, and Claire Cottrill in May of 2016 definitely comes to mind,” Gonson said, recalling a memorable string of ONCE shows a few years back. “The other one the same year was with Mitski; those were a great string of shows—super young new bands, very exciting, and full of amazing energy.”
Gonson continued, “There was another show with Alex G and Vunderbar that was stunning around the same time. Those Amanda Palmer shows too; seven years of amazing, and it’s hard to choose. I loved when bands I never had heard of came through and became something that I listened to forever.”
Live music creates vivid memories, the kind that people often talk about. Everyone remembers their first real concert, as well the bands that totally blew them away. Shows are a wonderful thing, always lifting spirits with an endless flow of positivity. That’s why we need these venues that we love so much to bounce back, and to avoid having the same fate that TT the Bear’s and so many others did even before COVID-19.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.