At the Paradise, Letters to Cleo revisits ‘Go!’ in all its pop-punk glory

Kay Hanley leads Letters to Cleo in concert at the Paradise.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Kay Hanley leads Letters to Cleo in concert at the Paradise.

Two-ish decades ago, the Boston-bred rockers Letters to Cleo were alt-rock darlings whose hooky, cerebral songs nodded to power pop’s sly catchiness and college rock’s brainiac tendencies. “Here and Now,” from their 1993 debut, “Aurora Gory Alice,” became a left-field hit, its rapid-fire chorus and bubble-grunge riffing given extra pop by vocalist Kay Hanley’s sweetly sour delivery.

The alt-rock era wasn’t without its quirks, but one of them is pretty striking: A lot of its best material, particularly those albums released by major labels and their offshoots, was never pressed to vinyl, thanks to the CD’s dominance over the recorded-music marketplace. Letters to Cleo has remedied that with vinyl reissues of its first three albums — “Alice,” 1995’s “Wholesale Meats and Fish,” and 1997’s “Go” — and last week those releases got their due with three full-album shows at the Paradise Rock Club. Saturday night’s performance was the last and focused on “Go!,” the final studio release before last year’s reunion-commemorating “Back to Nebraska” EP.

 Letters to Cleo in concert at the Paradise. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Arts, Creamer)
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Letters to Cleo in concert at the Paradise.

“Go!” is a bit of a lost gem, with Hanley and her bandmates speeding through pogo-ready pop-punk (the speedy, anthemic “I Got Time,” the revved-up title track) and harmony-heavy guitar rock (the psychedelia-tinged yet compact “Sparklegirl,” the open-road-ready “Anchor”), with the wounded ballad “Alouette & Me” giving the album a moment of unplugged, if no less intense, reflection. Saturday, Hanley and her bandmates (guitarists Michael Eisenstein and Greg McKenna, replacement bassist Joe Klompus, and drummer Tom Polce, who initially joined the band around the time “Go!” was recorded) leaned into the key changes that leaven the big guitars of “Find You Dead,” the open-road guitars that propel “Veda Very Shining,” and other twists that make “Go!” a deliciously crunchy guitar-pop confection.


The show had a loose feel that added to its camaraderie, with Hanley chatting through minor technical difficulties and asking attendees clustered near the stage how far they’d traveled — answers included from Winnipeg, Florida, and New Hampshire.

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After “Go!” was done, the band reeled off other bright spots from its catalog, including a cover of Cheap Trick’s 1977 come-on “I Want You to Want Me” (a contribution to the soundtrack for 1999’s teen Shakespeare remake “10 Things I Hate About You”) that drew a bright line between the feisty, mussy pop Letters to Cleo mastered in the 1990s and the zingy rock that lit up arenas in the ’70s, as well as a version of Scruffy the Cat’s 1987 rave-up “You Dirty Rat” that honored Cleo’s Boston roots.

Even with the minor hiccups, the show was fast and peppy, with the end arriving almost too soon. “See you next year,” Hanley called out while walking offstage, the closing riffs of “Rim Shak” thundering around her and the crowd seemingly more than ready for November 2018 to hurry up and arrive.

Letters to Cleo

With Blake Babies

At Paradise Rock Club, Saturday

Maura Johnston can be reached at