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Music Review

Outside the Box music tells Boston stories

Dicky Barrett and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Dicky Barrett and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.Aram Boghosian for The Globe

The finale to concerts held on the Boston Common as part of the Outside the Box arts festival could not have had a more pronounced Boston accent, as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Lemonheads, and Buffalo Tom drew thousands to the free show in the park Saturday evening.

Say what you will about Aerosmith, Boston, the J. Geils Band, and Dropkick Murphys, but the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is the most Boston of Boston bands. The ska-core crew sang about city history with “Rascal King”; its own experiences forming a band in the city on “Toxic Toast” and “Dr. D”; growing up in the city with “Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave.”; and the fight to preserve the city’s character with “I Want My City Back” and “They Came to Boston.”


As just those Hub-centric tunes show, the overall 27-song set list spanned the Bosstones’ career. And even though the band performs just a fraction of the number of concerts it did in its ’90s heyday, the nine men clad in plaid now scattered around the world rather than raising hell together on Queensberry Street can still pull together a tight show, one that easily shifts from provocative commentary to sheer exuberance.

Early in the nearly two-hourlong concert, the Bosstones dusted off the rarity “The Common Decency,” a song reintroduced during December’s Hometown Throwdown shows at the House of Blues but since tightened up into a simmer reggae meditation about the need for people to get along. The sentiment seemed to go over as the pockets of moshers and families there to see the concert were able to stake out respective areas close to the stage.

The concert was a swirl of old ska-core gems such as “Kinder Words” and “Hell of a Hat”; big hits such as “The Impression That I Get” (fleshed out with six teenage horn players from Ipswich); and newer songs such as “They Will Need Music” and “Like a Shotgun.”


A celebratory vibe carried into the encores with guest appearances by Dropkick Murphys guitarist James Lynch on “The Daylights” and “A Pretty Sad Excuse” and Bim Skala Bim trombonist Vinnie Nobile on “The Old School Off the Bright.” The Bosstones also used the occasion to announce that this year’s Throwdown is set for Dec. 27-29.

The Bosstones were not alone in expanding ranks Saturday. Buffalo Tom began the trend by inviting Lemonheads leader Evan Dando onstage to sing “Thirteen,” Big Star’s ode to adolescence.

Buffalo Tom’s hourlong opening set was a trove of indie-pop craftsmanship that wove in psychedelic, Brit-pop, and country influences. Bill Janovitz appropriately threw himself into “Summer,” sweltering heat be damned. And while the weather whacked out guitar tunings, Buffalo Tom still conjured the exuberant tumble of “Treehouse” and ache of “I’m Allowed.”

Dando’s current version of the Lemonheads includes guitarist Chris Brokaw, on a break from the Come reunion tour, and drummer Todd Philips, known for his work in Bullet LaVolta and Juliana Hatfield’s band, who sent out a Tweet announcing the show Saturday was his first in Boston in more than a decade. The set also included an
appearance by original Lemonhead Ben Deily playing guitar and singing on “Don’t Tell Yourself” and “Uhhh,” songs where the Lemonheads were still in the throes of punk rock as the band worked on sharper indie-pop writing.


In “Hannah and Gabi” and “Hospital,’’ you could hear how the Lemonheads’ sound matured into a dark romanticism. And with “It’s a Shame About Ray” and “Into Your Arms” you were left wondering why the Lemonheads aren’t a few more steps up the recognition ladder.

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com.