Intentionally or not, much of the “Hot Stove, Cook Music” concert was flashback to the Boston scene 20 years ago—a time when many of the leading artists were female, and when everybody knew the names Tanya, Kay, and Juliana.
By Brett Milano
This year’s 15th annual “Hot Stove, Cool Music” concert put the spotlight on two beloved local institutions. One, of course, was the Red Sox, under whose auspices the event was founded (The shows benefit former Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s Foundation to Be Named Later, which mostly raises education funds for underprivileged kids). The other, less obvious organization, was Q Division, the Somerville recording studio that’s long been a rallying point for local music heavyweights.
The studio’s management put the talent lineup together and thanks to the Q crew’s efforts, the event’s become less of a Red Sox lovefest and more a celebration of local rock history. Aside from house-band keyboardist Josh Kantor, who’s also the Fenway Park organist, the only Sox presence onstage Saturday night was Epstein’s customary cameo, playing rhythm guitar when Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz sang the band’s greatest hit, “Taillights Fade;” and a three-song set by Sox-associated sportswriter Peter Gammons. Though he wasn’t the best singer onstage, Gammons held his own, and earned some music-geek points for digging up “Wake Me, Shake Me,” a great Blues Project ’60s obscurity written by then-bandmember Al Kooper.
Kooper himself, who lately teaches at Berklee, opened the night with a set that included a couple of his career highlights: “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (which he wrote and sang with the original Blood, Sweat & Tears) and the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (he played keys on the Stones record). But Kooper—who, it must be said, seemed less than thrilled to be onstage—seems most comfortable stretching out on well-worn standards like Booker T & the MG’s “Green Onions,” which went over well with the casual fans. The rest of us can fantasize about his someday drawing a set from his weird and wonderful late ’60s/early ’70s solo albums.
Intentionally or not, much of the show then became a flashback to the Boston scene 20 years ago—a time when many of the leading artists were female, and when everybody knew the names Tanya, Kay, and Juliana. All three played reunion-type sets on Saturday: Kay Hanley, who’s been at virtually every Hot Stove show despite her relocation to Los Angeles, played with a band that was more-or-less Letters to Cleo (with founding guitarists Michael Eisenstein and Greg McKenna, later-lineup drummer Tom Polce, and her solo-band bassist Joe Klompus). The three tunes they played—“Awake,” “Because of You” and the hit “Here & Now”—resurrected the old sass and attitude. Tanya Donelly took the stage with a surprise cover—Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” with the Figgs’ Mike Gent doing the Jagger vocals—and then brought ex-bandmate Gail Greenwood on for a Belly mini-set of “Slow Dog,” “Superconnected,” and “Dusted.” The latter two tunes haven’t been played since their 1995 breakup (and yes, they skipped the hit “Feed the Tree” which Donelly’s played many times over the years). Theirs remains a unique sound, rocking with abstraction and mystery.
Hatfield played with the Juliana Hatfield Three, her circa-1994 band (with drummer Todd Phillips and bassist Dean Fisher) who’ve lately made a new album and played their first reunion show Saturday (“It’s your last chance to back out,” Fisher reminded her when they took the stage). Their previous album together, Become What You Are, was Hatfield’s most popular; she’s taken major leaps as a songwriter since then but the reunited band evinced a chemistry worth reviving. Along with that album’s hit “My Sister” she did one new song (“If I Could”) that had the best of both worlds, her latter-day depth and the reformed band’s energy.
It made sense that one of local music’s guardian angels, Robin Lane, did her 1979 hit “When Things Go Wrong” early in the night. Not that some male artists weren’t represented, even some recent ones: Will Dailey’s two-song set proved that Boston still produced interesting songwriters after 1999. But the Cavedogs, who closed the night, struck another blow for the vintage years. The power-pop trio, all of whom made the move to L.A. after their early-‘90s breakup, were the hit of the Pipeline! shows last fall, and returned to close Saturday’s show. This time with enough of a budget so that their pal, Boston-rooted comic David Cross, could introduce them. Their set included one goodie (“Love Grenade”) that wasn’t played last time; plus a song (“La La La”) that includes one of the best opening couplets in Boston history: “We’re just three white rich kids bitching ‘bout the world/ Think we got problems, but we ain’t got problems.” Those were the days, and on Saturday they still were.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.