The crowd emptied into the humid Boston night having bridged the past and the present, thanks to the incredible talent of the city’s local music scene, reunited in tribute to a club that hosted many such moments over its 11-year history.
By Jason M. Rubin
Defunct bands playing reunion concerts is de rigueur these days, but rarely does one see a concert for a defunct club. The Channel Reunion Concert, held on June 23, 2013 at Royale in Boston, may change that—in that someone should rebuild that club immediately and book the bands that in many cases came together after many years apart to pay tribute to the old club that once occupied space in Fort Point Channel (long before Fort Point Channel became a destination unto itself).
The concert was more than just a rocking romp down memory lane: it also served as a benefit for Right Turn, a nonprofit organization that provides services to those recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Right Turn was founded by Woody Geissmann, former drummer for the band Del Fuegos, and many of his contemporaries were in the house and on the stage for the five-plus-hour concert.
Though it was a benefit for a sobriety organization, the Royale’s multiple bars were busy all night. Throughout the club, there were also merchandise stations for many of the featured performers, with artists coming by to autograph items.
The evening opened with Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, who played a short opening set displaying all the energy one expects of the club veteran, her onstage persona alternating between songwriting waif and Patti Smith-like declaiming punk. She was followed by Charlie Farren, whose band Farrenheit was unable to join their leader. Playing solo, Farren was at a bit of a disadvantage facing an increasingly rowdy crowd, but his goofy humor was endearing (to a point).
The night picked up considerable steam when Lizzie Borden & The Axes took the stage. The all-female group took no prisoners in a fast-paced set highlighted by covers of the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone” (with vocals by bassist Borden) and the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” Though Borden is now recording on her own, the group displayed an energy and tightness that suggests they could remain a viable act, even though the current age of bad-girl female singers wouldn’t last a round with the Axes’ brand of old-school, bad-girl rock.
The band New England came on next, a bit of an anomaly on the bill as they are the only group associated more with an arena rock sound than a classic club band. They brought the volume and a flashy presentation one would expect from a group like Journey, but the crowd was up to the wall of sound and applauded enthusiastically, especially at set closer “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” the short-lived band’s biggest hit.
The presumptive climax of the evening was the back-to-back stellar sets from The Stompers and The Fools, who each showed that they have no peers in delivering dumb music played smartly. That is to say, the songs have the hallmarks of garage rock, simple structures and lyrics one would never dare show to an English teacher. And yet, in their skilled hands, both the Stompers and the Fools perform with exquisite control of dynamics and texture, making effective use of space in all the right places and keeping the emphasis on hip-twisting fun. The Stompers enhanced their sound with a quartet of red-clad, female singers, and the Fools surprised the crowd by capping their set with a remarkable version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.”
One would have though that was that, but there was one final set to come, and it proved to be the highlight of the evening. Local blues legend Johnny A (Boston’s answer to Joe Bonamassa) fronted a trio that began with a few meaty blues tunes and then became a revolving showcase for special guests, including another local blues legend, James Montgomery, who essentially took over as master of ceremonies, introducing each successive special guest. They included Barry Goudreau, formerly of the band Boston; Jon Butcher, who performed an incendiary version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady”; and Charlie Farren, who led a white, macho version of the Temptations’ classic “I Can’t Get Next To You.”
The scintillating final set finished with a jam version of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” giving Johnny A, Goudreau, and Montgomery ample opportunity to whip the crowd into a frenzy with their virtuosic playing. Following that, raffle prizes were awarded and a crowd of sweaty, satisfied people—much older than the typical Boston club crowd these days—emptied into the humid Boston night having bridged the past and the present, thanks to the incredible talent of the city’s local scene, reunited in tribute to a club that hosted many such moments over its 11-year history.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for 33 years, the last 18 of which has been as senior writer at Libretto, a Boston-based strategic communications agency. An award-winning copywriter, he holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, maintains a blog called Dove Nested Towers, and for four years served as communications director and board member of AIGA Boston, the local chapter of the national association for graphic arts. His first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012.