Much like their punk rock big brothers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, working class Boston punk band Street Dogs have carried on the tradition of playing annual hometown holiday shows. The 2016 installment of Christmastime Street Dogs gigs, dubbed Wreck The Halls, featured the band playing four consecutive nights at the same venue (Boston’s Brighton Music Hall) for the first time ever. Only the opening acts varied from night to night (Matt Charette and the Truer Sound on night one, The All Out on night two, Jesse Ahern and the Roots Rock Rebel Revue on the penultimate night, and Ascend/Descend for the finale). In another unique twist, all four shows were billed as co-headlining affairs with the newly retooled classic Boston punk band Darkbuster playing full sets before Street Dogs closed each night. And if you’re more than a little familiar with both bands, you’re no doubt aware that this meant Street Dogs guitarist Lenny Lashley and drummer Pete Sosa pulled double-duty, assuming their respective roles as frontman and drummer for The New Darkbuster each night as well.
Headlining four shows in the same venue over four consecutive nights may have its benefits in terms of gear set-up/breakdown, etc., but is no doubt arduous for more than a few reasons, particularly when it comes to generating unique setlists that don’t let up in intensity level while giving each night’s respective crowds the feeling that they witnessed something unique. Yours truly was present and accounted for at night three, which featured the Street Dogs set kicked off in traditional “Irish punk” fashion by a pretty rousing and well-received performance by a step dancing troupe from a local dance studio. (Editor’s note: there was a noted connection between the step dancers and founding Street Dog frontman Mike McColgan, but yours truly missed that part.)
Street Dogs proceeded to dive head-first into a headline set that did a pretty decent job of mixing songs from across their catalog. It’s been noted on this site in the past that the more recent additions to the band (Lashley and Matt Pruitt on guitar, Sosa on drums) have reinvigorated the longtime core of McColgan and bassist Johnny Rioux, who had rather famously announced what turned out to be an abridged hiatus a few years ago before announcing the new lineup. Now in their third decades in the punk world (and halfway through their second decade as bandmates), McColgan and Rioux rarely stayed in the same place for very long, jumping around the stage and playing to the crowd with the energy of a band half their ages, yet with the sort of professional stage presence that comes only with having reached ‘crafty veteran’ status.
Pruitt and Lashley ably man their respective sides of the stage, the former doing so with more forceful energy than I’ve seen him play with as a member of Street Dogs at any point. There’s a bit of what seems to be a natural yet unspoken, or even unacknowledged, chemistry between the two guitarists, as they play most parts in lock-tight connection without much in the way of demonstrable interaction at any point in the set. Perhaps that’s all by design, as it gives McColgan and Rioux a chance to roam around the crowded stage that also contained the aforementioned Charette on mandolin and Rioux and McColgan’s FM359 collaborator Hugh Morrison (from deep in the heart of Texas) on accordion on this particular night.
What wasn’t included in the set at least on this night (and, according to reports, on any of the four nights) was brand-new material from the album the band recently finished recording. It’ll mark their first full-length in almost seven years by the time it’s released (and obviously their first full-length with 60% of the present lineup), and given that the material is essentially completed, teasing an obviously accepting hometown crowd with a song or two would have probably made an already vocal and rowdy crowd elevate even more. But perhaps that’s biased, fanboy wishful thinking on my part.
It’s probably no secret to readers of this site (or at least those of you that are still with me through this post) that I’m a rather large fan of Darkbuster in the recent and prior incarnations and am a card-carrying #teamlenny member (some of you will get that). And yes, I get the whole history of the band and where they fit in the Boston punk lexicon and the level of abject chaos that made Darkbuster fahkin’ Dahkbustah, kehd. So as such, it’s virtually impossible to place the new incarnation of the band in the proper context. That said, I acknowledge being among the ranks that in many ways finds “The New” Darkbuster equally to if not more enjoyable than the historical lineups. Sure Lashley is not only the only original member but the only one who can be considered a member of the Boston punk history books (Sosa and guitarist Halston Luna hail from Texas, bass player Ruben Lipkind calls Buffalo, NY, home), but what this lineup lacks in chaotic energy it makes up for in…well…professionalism and genuinely enjoyable fun. It’s genuinely fun to see Lashley doing well and having fun diving back in to the Darkbuster catalog. The set on this night all but avoided most of the band’s most recent release (last year’s No Revolution, though there’s a story there too…), pulling heavily from the more “classic” albums, 1999’s 22 Songs You’ll Never Want To Hear Again and 2005’s A Weakness For Spirits, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, who were so revved up that they took to singing along to songs that weren’t even being played yet (a not-uncommon event at local Darkbuster shows). Yahtzee!
As stated above, Jesse Ahern and the Roots Rock Rebel Revue provided opening duties on this night. For the uninitiated, Ahern has been performing as a solo folk/punk/Americana troubadour since early this decade and has more recently been playing with the support of a full five-piece backing band. The parallels between street punk and true American folk have been explained other places by people well smarter than this writer, so Ahern’s Springsteenian roots rock sound not only sounds right at home in a punk rock club but was particularly well received by a blue collar, working class, pro-union crowd.
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