In 1999, the year Pete Weiss assembled the Weisstronauts, he never expected the band to be going strong more than a decade later.
But there he is in a recent video posted to YouTube, lovingly detailing the lavish new compilation he’s releasing to celebrate the Weisstronauts’ 14th year as one of Boston’s most rip-roaring acts.
The five-piece, which plays at Johnny D’s on Friday, is an instrumental rock band that has zigged and zagged through surf music, spaghetti Western soundtracks, roadhouse country, and 1950s exotica. Call it kitchen-sink rock, but Weiss has his own shorthand for the group’s sound: cartoony. Isn’t that selling the Weisstronauts short?
“Nah. Cartoons are fun. Our music, for better or worse, is a strange mixture of sophisticated yet zany and entertaining,” he says. “I think Berklee people can come see us and appreciate the intricacies and the musicianship, and yet our core crowd is anyone from 5 to 95. We’re actually kind of big with a lot of toddlers.”
At 27 songs, “Control Is in Your Command: The Best of 1999-2012” draws from the Weisstronauts’ discography of five full-length albums and three EPs. It comes with a vinyl LP, plus a bonus CD including all of those songs and 15 more, including unreleased material. (The compilation is available through the band’s website, www.weisstronauts.com, and at its shows.)
The Weisstronauts rose from the ashes of Pete Weiss & the Rock Band, which Weiss fronted in the ’90s and describes as a “garage-y power trio, anything-goes kind of thing.”
“We ended that, and the drummer, Emily Jackson, and I decided to continue making music with the idea of having a few guitars and getting a lot of people who could sing really well and do power pop with a lot of nice harmonies,” Weiss says. “We did that for a little while, and then we started goofing around with instrumental songs and found they were really fun to write and arrange, and with three guitars anything could happen. By the time our third year rolled around, we were pretty much entirely instrumental.”
“The irony has always been that most of the members of the band are actually really good singers,” he adds. “It’s kind of being wasted in a way.”
Weiss realized early on that having a niche — in this case, all-instrumental — could help give the band a strong identity.
“I love working with singers and can appreciate a great vocal passage and great lyrics as much as anyone,” he says. “I think it’s more that if we work in these limited parameters, it can be more of a cool challenge for us.”
Weiss lives in southern Vermont, where he works as a producer and recording engineer as the owner of Verdant Studio, but most of the band lives in the Boston area. (In addition to Weiss on guitar, Friday’s show will include Kenny Lafler on guitar; George Hall on guitar; Kevin Quinn, a founding member, on bass; and Nathan Logus on drums.)
With a lineup that Weiss calls “elastic,” the only consistent quality has been the most satisfying one.
“It sounds corny, but I think it’s the fact that we’ve always been able to have fun with it,” he says. “These 14 years just flew by.”
With Halloween approaching, area clubs get in the spirit by inviting local bands to dress up and perform as other artists. A sampling of who’s got you covered: Church, a restaurant and club near Fenway, gets the party started early this weekend. The fourth annual “Hallo’Queen” blowout includes the Lights Out as Queen, Sidewalk Driver as Spinal Tap, the Field Effect as Weezer, and I, Pistol as Nirvana. The Lights Out’s website promises “Freddie Mercury stick-on mustaches for all” and the show “will even feature a surprise appearance by a glittery Boston rocker playing David Bowie.” (My guess is Gene Dante.) Saturday, 9 p.m. Tickets: $12, $10 in advance. www.ticketfly.com … The Middle East Upstairs will host Destroy Babylon performing the soundtrack to “The Harder They Come,” the 1972 film starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff. They’ll be joined by the Sterns dolled up as Fleetwood Mac and the Fat Mikes covering NOFX and ’90s punk. Wednesday, 9 p.m., Tickets: $10. www.ticketweb.com… Next door at T.T. the Bear’s, it’s your only chance to see a lineup that ranges from the 1960s through the ’90s. Featuring Babydriver as the Modern Lovers, Earthquake Party! as Nirvana, Them Again as Them, and Pimple Zoo as Guided by Voices. Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Tickets: $8. www.ticketweb.com… In Somerville, Radio takes a cheeky approach with the Zombie Rock All-Stars (John Lennon, Jeff Buckley, Joe Strummer, John Bonham, Sting), Southern Lust Club as David Bowie, and Streight Angular as Buddy Holly. Wednesday, 9 p.m., www.radiobarunion.com… Over at Johnny D’s, two local tribute bands will time-warp to the ’80s. The Power of Love pays homage to Huey Lewis & the News, while Bikini Whale takes you to “Planet Claire” and back as the B-52s. Wednesday, 8 p.m., Tickets: $10. www.ticketweb.com.