Monday, February 09, 2004

Every so often, on TV these days, I catch ads for a new Rolling Stones live compilation. In the bits on the commercials, at least, they sound like they've degenerated into a bad Stones cover band -- I've heard better ones playing for spare change in the Harvard Square pit. I haven't been tempted to put money down for the whole album, to see if they do better with the rest of it. But there's still big money in it for the Stones, and so they keep going.

There's no big money for lot of really good bands around Boston which, for whatever dumb reason, never broke through nationally. When Unnatural Axe or the Lyres get back together, it's for the love of what they do, and they still do it phenomenally well. (One local act recently disappointed a video crew that had contacted them at their day jobs trying to arrange a reunion -- they had never broken up). But it can still lead to odd moments in the audience.

So, last Saturday at the Middle East upstairs, garage rock virtuosos the Lyres were headlining (the original lineup, for anyone out there who kept track of their comings and goings), with fellow veterans the Real Kids and latter-day acolytes the Coffin Lids in support. The first two bands would have been a phenomenal bill at the Rathskellar in Kenmore Square in its heyday. But the Rat closed years ago, and was more recently torn down so Boston University could put up a hotel with exterior decor so cheap that its tackiness literally made headlines. (Boston's redevelopment agency is requiring them to replace it, for the good of the neighborhood.) And the bands are showing their age and rust -- the Lyres seemed to be going over arrangments toward the beginning of their set before finally letting it rip. But when they did, it was a hell of a set.

At the door, one youngster asked if the other two bands played music in the same style as the Coffin Lids. (Ummm... no. It's the other way 'round). Inside, kids her age were mixed in with a crowd of genuinely aging scensters, which led to the occasional reunion of fans who used to know each other from the crowd, but hadn't seen each other since -- catching up on each other and gigs of other bands of that era, and complaining that there were no good new bands like that these days. (Ou sont les mosh pits d'antan?) Not too far from them, towards the end of the set, one kid who looked like she'd been in diapers during the Rat's heyday told her boyfriend she wanted to leave as soon as the Lyres played "their big song" -- three songs after they lurched into "I want to help you Anne" and the floor started shaking.

Kids these days. I swear.

Speaking of good new bands, by the way, in a rather different vein from the Lyres, the Dresden Dolls are taking their cabaret stylings on tour, with several gigs in the next month or so in New York city and upstate (they've got a gig tomorrow in NYC at Joe's pub), then striking out for the midwest and south. I'm not raving about them continually because I'm not sure that whoever's reading this wants to hear "yet another phenomenal Dolls performance" over and over... but I've been to a couple dozen by now, and have yet to hear a dud. And it's not just me -- in this year's Maxie awards, presented by Boston's local music zine The Noise, the Dolls scored a sweep, winning eight awards, including best CD and best live act. (JJ Rassler, accepting his award for best guitar, thanked the Dolls for not having a guitarist). Check them out now, and be able to say you saw them when....


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