For all their noise and bluster, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones can get mighty mighty sentimental. Opening night of the band's 15th Hometown Throwdown on Saturday was as much a love letter to Boston and its music scene as it was ska-core blowout.
The once hard-touring Bosstones now just perform a handful of gigs annually, with the seasonal Throwdowns being the highlight. This year the band staked out three shows at the House of Blues, with the finale scheduled for tonight. Each show offers different opening acts and unique set lists, all delivered with flair, starting with an introduction by a trio of guitar, banjo, and conga belting out the Bosstones' "Riot on Broad Street."
Bassist and Throwdown designer Joe Gittleman engineered the stage to look like a rooftop beneath the iconic Kenmore Square Citgo sign. The eight main 'Tones and longtime auxiliary keyboard player John Goetchius entered from a graffiti-splattered doorway, walking past a cage of pigeons and urban debris (including the plastic Santa and "Blanta" (black Santa) Throwdown totems) to take their places for a 27-song romp.
With the glowing sign overhead, singer Dicky Barrett delivered a savage "I Want My City Back," an anthem about the era when Kenmore Square was more funky than chic. But "This Time of Year" quickly tempered the bitterness with its message that places may change but spirit endures.
That sense of camaraderie built around music popped up early with an opening set by Boston garage punks the Dogmatics. The band retired in 1986 after founding member Paul O'Halloran was killed in a motorcycle crash, but the remaining Dogmatics still sound vital bashing through such reckless essentials as "Drinking by the Pool" and "Thayer St." Unnatural Axe singer Richie Parsons joined the Dogmatics for "Christmas Time," a tune the Bosstones themselves have covered.
The Bosstones and Dogmatics began as peers, and the former connected to those early days while playing older tunes "Devil's Night Out" and "Hope I Never Lose My Wallet."
As a band, the Bosstones didn't cheat the might at their disposal — three horns, fierce guitar parts originally crafted by Nate Albert and now aptly handled by Lawrence Katz — and by mid-career had hits that transcended the underground for ska and punk (represented Saturday with an opening set by young ska outfit Soul Radics). The Bosstones dived into the popular numbers with "The Impression That I Get," "Someday
I Suppose," and "Rascal King."
For the hard-core fans, the Bosstones broke out the rarity "The Common Decency" and dusted off the cautionary tale "She Just Happened." Broadway-to-Clash covers of "The Impossible Dream" and "Rudie Can't Fail" added to the Throwdown pageantry.
The Bosstones may not come home often, but when they do, they know how to party.