Jonah Jenkins spent the better part of the last 25 years fronting some of this city’s loudest bands ever — from the blistering Only Living Witness to his ultra-abrasive current band, Raw Radar War. But when he stops to think about it, only a bit of it might be considered legitimate in a traditional sense.
“I was a professional musician for about three months total,” he says one night over beers at the cozy Harvard Square dive Charlie’s Kitchen. “That was enough.”
“Professional musician” is a label so rare in most underground music circles that even the thought of it takes on a fairy-tale sheen. Jenkins was in a short-lived band Miltown that spent a hectic and failed spell with Warner Bros. affiliate Revolution Records before folding after an absurd runaround with big-label money. He wasn’t surprised. When he was free to get back to slumming it, he happily formed Milligram.
Milligram was a monolithic force in underground Boston rock, a band that took jagged-edge punk and bulldozed it with sludge and noise-rock into a fine rubble. Jenkins, already a scene vet from both Miltown and the more hardcore-metal Only Living Witness, fronted it and enlisted Darryl Shepard, Bob Maloney, Zephan Courtney, and, later, Jeff Turlik — a gang of musicians who’d all seen their share of rock disasters in other bands. Together they managed one EP and a full-length over the course of eight years, and will be celebrating two reunion shows this month at Great Scott on Oct. 13 and 20 with a crew of friends from the good old days.
“We had seen the aggressive music scene in Boston implode and become a terrible place to be,” says Jenkins. “We’d matured, and for those of us who still hadn’t had kids and moved to the suburbs, we were determined to have a good time and not let it get sabotaged by anyone.” That’s not to suggest that what went down in those confines was toothless. The bands from that era of Boston rock were some of the heaviest to ever burn soundboards in this town.
“It was our way of blowing off steam,” says Shepard, who now makes music as the solo looping project Blackwolfgoat. “I loved how Jonah would sing and we just built up really short songs that sounded like Black Flag and the Stooges. It started out just flat-out redline rock, then morphed into the weirder, off-kilter stuff.”
“It was great to see folks come expecting some kind of Thin Lizzy/Black Sabbath amalgam get hit in the face with some shrieking dissonance,” says Jenkins. This mix made the band hometown heroes and anchors of a scene that wobbled gleefully between meat and potatoes riff-rock and pure chaos.
And yet, the band still crashed and burned. Their first and last full-length, “This Is Class War,” suffered a lengthy postponement (planned release date: Sept.11, 2001 — not a great day for an album originally called “Death to America”). At what turned out to be their last show, Jenkins counted about 11 people in the audience.
The current round of shows — after 10 years off — signifies a lifestyle change. The first of this bunch was for a friend’s wedding in New Jersey last fall. The band members have all moved on in life, gotten married, found jobs, had kids — changed. Even though they thought they had it all figured out at the time, Jenkins admits that self-awareness has ways of distorting itself.
“When I first moved to Boston, I was not comfortable,” Jenkins said. “I needed a couch so I had to walk to AMVETS and work until they gave me a used couch. I stomped on garbage in their dumpster so they could fit more in — that’s the kind of things I was doing when I first got here.”
His early bands mirrored that, including Milligram — scraping by month to month, fighting for shows, and stringing together gas money for long trips in the van. Nowadays, both Jenkins and Shepard say they’re happy to just focus on making sure the friends that show up this time around are into it.
“I’m very comfortable in my existence these days,” says Jenkins. “I can even buy a couch if I want — imagine that!”
Enough with the cut-off shorts and Ray-Bans, already. Fall is here and the dead leaves on the ground demand more somber musical accompaniment. Sleek fuzz-brooders Endation take over Union Square’s Radio on Oct. 6 to release their album “The Absence of Everything,” a tangle of Nick Cave-style tantrums and seething dissonance. Future Carnivores, Gene Dante & the Future Starlets, and What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? are all along for the ride. . . . At Great Scott on Oct. 18, the New Highway Hymnal spills the liquor-and-reverb-soaked goods from their new album, “Whispers,” promising to ramp up the peyote-tripping Iggy and the Stooges operation they’ve been growing in their closet this year, all with the help of a killer local lineup: RIBS, Earthquake Party, and Infinity Girl. . . . The next night, at Lizard Lounge, longtime master of moody atmospherics Brian Carpenter holds court with his band, the Confessions — a sprawling assembly of pitch perfect woeful Americana and delicate ballads (they’re releasing their new album, “Blind”). On board that night is a gourd-bending bunch of acts like the solo live-sample act Animal Hospital, the Providence terror-psych outfit Alec K. Redfearn & The Eyesores, and the frosty croons of the Wrong Shapes.Matt Parish can be reached at mattparish