The Boston Phoenix January 11 - 18, 2001

[Music Reviews]

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Drunk again

The Raging Teens and the Decals

by Brett Milano

It takes just four words to sum up why the Raging Teens rule: "Let's Drink Some Booze." Those words (or some version thereof) are likely heard in the audience at their shows, but they're also the title of the band's most obvious hit -- a track from their soon-to-be-released Rock 'n' Roll Party! (due next month on Rubric), and possibly the most gung-ho drinking song to come out of Boston since Gang Green's immortal "Alcohol." Gang Green's song evinced a certain fuck-you attitude; the Raging Teens' is all rockabilly camaraderie. When they played it at T.T. the Bear's Place last Saturday, singer Kevin Patey introduced it as "our surefire anthem" -- quoting a preview that ran in these pages last week -- and urged the audience to indulge. The lyrics offer a cure for what ails you: "You say your baby left, and you're feeling blue; but you won't remember when you're good and stewed." Pure poetry.

The maniacs who invented rockabilly 40 years ago would probably relate to that sentiment -- certainly the ones at T.T.'s don't have a problem with it. The band look and sound as if they had beamed in from some long-ago roadhouse. Bouffanted guitarist Amy Griffin appears impossibly Barbie-doll-like as she makes with the torrid solos -- you'd swear she's the reincarnation of original Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, except that he's still alive. Patey is up front shaking his DA; Matt Murphy is swinging his upright bass around, and Keith Shubert is pounding the hell out of his snare drum. And they throw in a ringer during the encore, a rockabilly version of "If the Kids are United"-- the UK punk nugget by Sham 69. So here we have a band in 2001 playing a 1970s song in 1950s style. At some point the decades blur into each other and it's all rock and roll.

"That's all we are, a rock-and-roll band," Patey notes backstage. "To me, this kind of music is as important as it ever was. Rockabilly is the foundation of the house that we call rock and roll -- those hillbillies were the first to play three-chord rock, so they were the original punks. And this isn't going to be the new cool thing -- it's the original cool thing." No surprise that Patey and his bandmates aren't finding a lot of cool things on the radio these days. "The alternative scene dropped dead. Everything that's supposed to be alternative you can find at the mall; you can get pink hair dye at the mall and be a punk-rocker. I hear a lot of hate and anger in music nowadays. What we do is more entertaining, and it sure ain't hard to figure out."

On the new album, the band give the ultimate kissoff to modern recording trends. Produced by West Coast rockabilly kingpin Deke Dickerson and recorded in his Los Angeles living room, the whole thing was done in mono. No overdubs were allowed; echo was achieved by running two reel-to-reel machines at slightly different speeds; there was exactly one drum mike; and Dickerson mixed everything on the spot, so none of the tracks took any longer to make than they take to listen to. Griffin even got to play through a reverb device that was designed for Scotty Moore in the '50s. And well-engineered mono proves to be a fitting sound for rockabilly. It sounds as if there were a wild party going on upstairs and your roof were a few seconds away from caving in.

"The best example of what we were looking for," Patey explains, "is Chuck Berry's `Maybellene' -- you can play that on the fanciest, most expensive stereo system in the world and it will still sound like your speakers are blowing up." "Let's Drink Some Booze" aside, many of the new tunes show a certain maturity: Patey's "Annabelle" is a love song for his daughter (born to him and wife Mary Lou Lord two New Year's Eves ago); and Griffin has composed a pair of charming country songs, "Waiting Right Here" and "Starry in the City."

"When I wrote that song ["Starry in the City"], it sounded like this," Griffin notes backstage, and she proceeds to shout the lyrics in hardcore style. Off stage she looks less like a rockabilly queen and more like a punk-rocker, with sneakers, sweatshirt, and nose ring. Whereas Patey is geared toward details and equipment, Griffin seems a more intuitive type. Ask where she got her sound and she volunteers that she used to be in a bad punkabilly band. "We had songs like `Caveman Love' that went, `Yabba dabba doo, you're the girl I wanna do.' " As for her look on stage, "It used to be too Jackie O, when I had white pumps and a snakeskin top. Now I'm wearing a black dress, and that I can deal with. But I was never too good at fashion." The slightly grown-up sound of the new disc can perhaps be attributed to the fact that everyone but Patey really was a teenager when the band formed, and they've all hit legal drinking age since then. "At first we couldn't help but be totally frantic all the time," Patey notes, "because that's all we could do. Now it's still the same three chords, but it's not all in the same order." Having warmed up at T.T.'s, the band now have a more extravagant affair planned for the official CD-release party, February 17 at the Middle East. The show will begin at noon and run straight through until closing, with 13 bands, among them the Racketeers, the Bourbonaires, and the Konks. There'll also be guest shots by a couple of New England's original rockabilly cats, including Ricky Coyne, who cut the original version of "Rollin' Pin Mim" (covered on Rock 'n' Roll Party!) in the early '60s and now sells real estate in Woburn.

I'd be the last person to suggest that getting plastered will help a band play a hot set, but there are times when it doesn't seem to hurt. One of those occasions was two nights before Christmas at the Abbey Lounge, in Somerville, when the Decals (sharing a bill with the equally revved-up Heavy Stud) played a set that you could get contact buzz from just by watching. And the music was exactly what you'd want to hear under the circumstances: old-school Boston punk with real tunes and attitude, capped off by a bash through Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run." It began to sound and feel like one of those nights at the Rat that you could barely recall the next morning.

"I remember that night -- all I brought to the show was beer and a pair of sticks," notes drummer Gino Zanetti when we talk at the Abbey. "We usually don't drink that much at shows," offers singer/bassist Michelle Paulhus. Guitarist/singer Nicole Johnson continues, "But we're getting up to a case of beer for each practice. And we get to the end of it by the third time we run through the set." "And that's when it starts to sound really good," guitarist Craig Adams concludes.

In short, this band embody the eternally fun/snotty strain of Boston music, and they've got the pedigree for it. Paulhus, who waitressed at the Rat just before it closed, was until recently better known as "the girl in the Real Kids"-- but two full-time bands and a day job proved too much, so she left that group last month. (She was, however, dancing up front at the Real Kids show last Friday at Lilli's, where frontman John Felice chided her for stealing beer off the stage.) Johnson and Paulhus first played together in the Pageboys, a short-lived band whose line-up also included Paula Kelley ("four girls in the same band," is Johnson's explanation for why the Pageboys didn't last). And Adams was in the last incarnation of the long-running hardcore band the Freeze.

Paulhus raised a few eyebrows by turning up in the Real Kids line-up last year, replacing original member Al "Alpo" Paulino, but she fit in surprisingly well -- and she may be the first member ever to leave under friendly circumstances. "I knew it would look weird to have a girl in the band; in fact, I tried to talk them out of it, but those guys are like family now. There was a rumor going around that I was Alpo's niece, but I've never even met him; I just saw him play a few times."

In the course of stockpiling songs for a full-length, the Decals put out a single (produced by former Moving Targets bassist Patrick Leonard) on their own Fan Attic label. Both tunes sport a tough, hooky sound -- think Joan Jett or the Muffs -- and downright nasty lyrics: the A-side "You (That's All We Ever Talk About)" builds to a satisfying "Fuck you!" in the last chorus, and the B-side's title, "I Don't Buy Your Lines ('Cause I Use 'em All the Time)," is equally self-explanatory. "That's one of our rotten-boyfriend songs," Paulhus explains. "That's the only kind of song we have. Nicole and I are both relatively happy now, but we've had enough bad experiences to last for a hundred albums. So at least we're putting our bad experiences to good use. We've got songs about guys who drink too much and piss you off."

"And guys that don't drink enough," Johnson concludes.

Being in a quartet with two women with strong personalities could be a thankless task for the two guys, I suggest. "Yeah, but it's cool -- the girls are beautiful and we're dealing with an inebriated audience, so it's a wonderful thing," Adams notes. "The girls provide the body and we provide the bikini." Paulhus adds that "none of us is remotely attracted to any of the rest of us, so we don't have to worry about the band breaking up."

The Decals play Bill's Bar this Friday, January 12, then return to the Abbey on Saturday for a double bill with Dave Wannamaker & Jen Trynin's new band Loveless.

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