Boston's Alternative Source!

All punk is local
Dropkick Murphys sweep the Best Music Poll


Let’s face it, as far as most of the rock world is concerned, there are two Boston bands that matter right now: Aerosmith and Godsmack. Technically, that’s an accurate perception — regardless of what our poll says. Both bands still live in metro Boston when they’re not on tour, and both even deigned to record their current platinum albums locally, in separate makeshift studios on opposite ends of the I-495 ring. Godsmack’s Sully Erna probably sports the coolest Massachusetts accent any celebrity has ever had, and Aerosmith ... well, they’re Aerosmith.

But in the interest of leveling the playing field, we’ve promoted both groups to the national portion of our poll, where Godsmack finished second in the Best Loud Act category and Aerosmith’s Just Push Play (Columbia) came out too recently to qualify. Another band notably omitted from the local category are the inimitable Mighty Mighty Bosstones, whose recent stretch of commercial good fortune showed signs of cooling off with the release of last year’s Pay Attention (Mercury), but who remain an overwhelmingly popular touring act. (As such, they finished second in our national Best Live Act category.) And those guys, of course, stay even truer to their roots than Aerosmith or Godsmack, inviting hordes of young local punk bands to share the stage with them every year at their annual Hometown Throwdown.

But here at the BMP, we’re not interested in handing out lifetime achievement awards. Instead, our poll exists to honor acts who’ve got one foot in the local scene and the other on the cusp of something bigger. And this year, one band fit that definition so well that they won every major category in the poll, including Best Act. According to our readers, there is one Boston band that matters more than all the rest, and that’s Dropkick Murphys.

To be honest, it may be time to bump the Dropkicks up to the national level: they’re on their third album for a subsidiary of one of the most successful indie labels of all time, Epitaph, and they’re on the road at least as often as the Bosstones. But they’re a Boston band like none before them — unlike Aerosmith, Godsmack, or even the Bosstones, they probably couldn’t have developed their signature sound anywhere else. Working-class white kids in town have long grown up on conflicting diets of Ratty old punk rock and traditional Irish folk music, but who would have guessed the two would ever come together so seamlessly (and effectively) in one group of shamrock-sporting nice guys?

Groups rarely rise from obscurity as quickly as the Dropkicks. Their ’97 debut, Do or Die (Hellcat), is already an American punk touchstone, and their just-completed tour in support of the new Sing Loud, Sing Proud! (Hellcat) sold out large clubs across the country. In a few weeks they’ll head off on a month-long European tour. They run both a huge merchandise operation and their own record label, Flat, out of their headquarters in Quincy. And despite their deep entrenchment in the perpetual outsiders’ world of punk rock, the band are even starting to receive attention from mainstream local media outlets: they recently took home prizes from both the Boston Music Awards and the annual readers’ poll at the Phoenix’s sister publication, Stuff@Night.

If there’s a bittersweet footnote to the Dropkicks’ runaway victory, it’s that Boston still lacks any independent all-ages punk venues. That’s not to say the scene isn’t thriving: the Dropkicks have played Avalon three times in the past year, each time to a packed house. Lansdowne Street in general has become an increasingly friendly place for punk rock, and independently promoted shows abound on the fringes (most notably at the Palladium in Worcester, as well as at various holes-in-the-wall around town and VFW halls in the outskirts). But all-ages shows are still hard to come by in Boston, and that’s a shame in a city with a punk tradition as rich as ours.

Another encouraging sign for local punk in our poll is the strong performance of lovable losers Darkbuster, whose, uh, star has continued to rise since they won the Rumble a year ago. They finished close behind the Dropkicks in the Best Act, Best Live Act, and Best Song categories, and won Best Punk Act outright (the Dropkicks were bumped from that one). It might be hard to imagine a band best known for singing about playing shows in Randolph going national, but who knows — they have at least as much self-effacing tunefulness in their songs as NOFX do. And in our poll, at least, the townie factor is a definite advantage when it comes to punk: witness the dismal performance of college transplants/emo-label beneficiaries the Explosion, who finished near the bottom in every category in which they were nominated, despite their significant national profile and the thoroughly convincing Sex Pistols drive of their full-length debut, Flash Flash Flash (Jade Tree).

Punk may be the main story in this year’s poll, but the old guard of Boston alternative rock (for lack of a better way to describe it) was far from silent. It was a good year for the rejuvenated Juliana Hatfield, whose Beautiful Creature (Zoe/Rounder) — probably her best album since the alternative-era hit Become What You Are (Atlantic) — finished just behind the Dropkicks’ disc in the Best Album category. Hatfield won Best Female Vocalist outright, edging out former Letters to Cleo singer (and current cartoon-soundtrack queen) Kay Hanley. Indeed, with Hanley about to unleash her first solo album and Hatfield heading out on the second leg of the Blake Babies reunion tour, you could even say there’s a welcome mini-resurgence in brash Boston girlie-pop going on.

The Sheila Divine are kind of like the new, revitalized face of Boston’s alternative-rock old guard, and they’ve been able to maintain a low-key national buzz despite undergoing the typical indie-label shuffle last year. Like Letters to Cleo before them, they remain a popular live draw in town regardless of whether they’ve released anything new or not. Singer Aaron Perrino, who often does solo acoustic shows on the side, came out on top in the Best Male Vocalist category of our poll for the second year in a row. And even though their latest disc, Where Have All My Countrymen Gone (Wicked Disc), wasn’t out in time for the ballot deadline, the band still finished second to the Dropkicks in the Best Local Act category.

Best New Act winners American Hi-Fi also have a bit of that retro-alternative feel to them — and if you consider how few Boston club shows they played before signing a major-label deal, they’re even less of a legitimate local act than the suburban-bred Godsmack. But they’re all long-time scene veterans, and the cool summertime punch of their Billboard-charting homonymous debut disc can’t be considered anything but a good sign for Boston rock in general. Dig a little deeper into the poll and you’ll find three more recent major-label signees about to follow American Hi-Fi into the abyss: Nullset (Best Loud Act winners), Heidi (Best Female Vocalist, third place), and Halfcocked. The latter have since defected to LA, but all three have done their share of time in the local rock trenches and are colorful enough to have a shot at making a dent nationally.

But the most intriguing — and least commercial — name making the rounds of major-label circles these days is Cave In, whose underwhelming performance in our poll (two third-place finishes, for Best Male Vocalist and Best Album) is disheartening, to say the least. At press time, reliable word had them finalizing a deal with RCA, capping a successful year in which they staged a buzz-building national tour in support of their third disc, Jupiter (Hydrahead), opened a couple of arena shows for A Perfect Circle, and appeared in the pages of Spin. Once the toast of the metal and hardcore underground and lately one of indie rock’s brightest stars, the band have already built a sizable national profile. Time will tell how well their underground following transfers to the mainstream.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of young bands in town following in the footsteps of indie success stories like Cave In and Dropkick Murphys. Abington emo boys Junction 18 have quietly built a buzz around their debut disc, This Vicious Cycle (Fearless), which came out last fall on the same California punk label that indie crossover kings At the Drive-In called home before moving on to Grand Royal. Metalcore mosh titans Diecast are quickly becoming Boston’s answer to Hatebreed, with the same commercial potential and rumors of concert violence that accompany that comparison. Metallic upstarts the Hope Conspiracy (Best New Act, fourth place) just went around the country with Sick of It All; their buddies Reach the Sky (Best Punk Act, third place) will follow their spring tour-mates the Dropkick Murphys over to Europe. Ought-one will also bring a pile of new music from long-time local favorites such as Converge, Scissorfight (runners-up for Best Loud Act), Six Going on Seven, and the recently reunited Piebald.

Yeah, Aerosmith are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Godsmack get to headline amphitheaters this summer. Just don’t tell us they’re the only Boston bands that matter.

Issue Date: May 17 - 24, 2001