"Well I love that dirty water, Boston, you're my home..." The Shandells
Boston became a rock and roll town in 1968, right around the release of "Dirty Water." An inauspicious beginning, to be sure, with that year bringing Dick Summer's abortive "Bosstown Sound," but a beginning nonetheless. In the preceding ten years, Boston had been the exclusive province of folk music, and if you could lay claim to having been "around during the old Club 47 days," you were something of a celebrity indeed.
Since 1968, though, the folkies like Tom Rush have moved out of town, to farms in New Hampshire, or out West, and they only come into town for single shows. The quality of rock music in Boston is rarely challenged now, and the complete range of music available is rivaled only in New York Come summer, though, and Boston's music is not paralleled. There's music everywhere, and if you're in town for the summer it's well worth your while to hear your share. There's something here for you.
If your tastes are dictated by the bulge in your wallet, there's a good deal of regular free-cheap music. Regular Sunday afternoon concerts attract crowds to the Cambridge Common. These feature primarily unknown, but often excellent, local jazz and rock bands playing primarily for exposure. It's the kind of total experience afternoon in which the people watching are more important than the music being played. Go to see and be seen.
The Nameless--a free coffeehouse on Church Street, off the Square-- features local folk talent on weekends during the year. Summer plans for the coffeehouse are not certain. Local jazz is available at Boston's Old West Church, 131 Cambridge St. Neither of these is a heavy advertiser, so rely on word of mouth or an occasional poster on a telephone pole for information. Boston's coffeehouses are many, and some feature entertainment as well as beverage. Check the Phoenix for details.
Boston is the only major American city with a city-sponsored, regular series of rock concerts. Summerthing's Sunset Series, sponsored by the Falstaff Brewing Company, brings rock to Boston Common twice a week through August. It's your best bet, even thought this year's run of bands doesn't match last year when the Series imported Faces, the Allman Brothers, and Poco, among others. Each concert is $2.50. Tickets can be bought in advance, but most people just go down before the show, which starts at six, and ends, by law, at nine. This year the series will bring Poco, the Beach Boys, BB King, Buddy Miles, and Merry Clayton, among others, into town. You can get there by taking the subway to Park St.
This year, though, Summerthing has come in for some criticism. Nathan Cobb of the Globe wrote a six-piece article on Summerthing that hinted darkly at an over-extension of government control of the arts. Cobb's series made one or two salient points, most notably that the Sunset Series has effectively stifled private competition. Since all privately promoted concerts must be licensed through city hall, the city retains some control over who plays, where they play, and when.
Despite Cobb's hints to the contrary in the Globe. Summerthing intends to pour the proceeds from the Sunset Series into the neighborhood programs. These neighborhood programs make up the bulk of Summerthing, and are its chief value. The emphasis is on participatory activities. There is some music, but it is primarily local. If you find yourself wanting to wander, Boston's ethnic neighborhoods are among the most solid in the country. Again, check the Phoenix or Boston After Dark for details. Perhaps the emphasis is on ethnic music in each neighborhood. That certainly is the case in Roxbury.
There's only one big-deal, one-shot concert in Boston during your stay, but by the time you read this, the Rolling Stones two nights at Boston Garden will be sold out.
Some of you may have money. If you've got the money, Boston has many indoor, intimate music sports. The emphasis is always on music--Boston has very few night clubs. Besides the aforementioned coffeehouses, there are six spots worthy of special mention. The major jazz spots in Boston are Paul's Mall and the Jazz Workshop, located side by side at 733 Boylston St. about halfway between Auditorium and Copley on the Green Line. They feature middle ground jazz acts and some solo performers (by and large vocalists like Merry Clayton). If you're 21, or look it, you can drink, but that's expensive. The cover charge at Paul's varies from $2-$5.50, depending on the night. Paul's shares owners, addresses, cover charges, drink prices, and phone numbers, 267-1300, with the Jazz Workshop. This week, at the Workshop, you can see Swallow, one of the town's better jazz-rock bands (they have a new album just out). Cheech and Chong are at Paul's.
If you've got money and a car, you can drive out to Lennie's in Danvers on Route One. Lennie's is almost exclusively a jazz spot, but it also features occasional rock and roll acts and the Lennie's regulars, most notably Buddy Rich. The cover charge is about $2, but during the year Lennie's features student night food and music for $4.
There's one soul spot in Boston, The Sugar Shack on Boylston St. beside-- hidden actually--by the Colonial Theatre's marquee. The Shack rarely headlines the big name soul acts; it makes do with secondary groups. You can drink here too, but it's also very expensive. The cover charge is a standing $2, and this week they're featuring the Ambitions. The phone number is 426-0026.
Passim inhabits the old Club 47 at 47 Palmer St. (it's the narrow street between the Coop's main store and the annex). Passim is a combination bookstore and coffeehouse with entertainment. The entertainment runs mostly to rising troubadours-not quite folk music, but quite definitely singer-guitarists. Rosalie Sorrels is playing this week, twice a night, at 8:30-10:30. Their cover charges range from $2-$2.50, and their phone number is 492-7679.
The most important index to music in Boston is in the weekly papers. Pick up a copy of the Phoenix or Boston After Dark and look at their listings. They're also responsible for some fine rock criticism. Landau's work in the Phoenix is always literate, and nearly always insightful, though he tends to take himself a bit seriously at times. For my quarter, the best rock writing in town is from Ben Gerson in Boston After Dark. He's literate and insightful, with the added advantage of being readable. There'll be regular rock reviews and criticism in this space, too, bi-weekly all summer.
If you can't afford much live music, you can always listen to the radio. WBCN is about the best FM Stereo Rock on this coast. BCN is low-key, barely playlisted, and its music is, at times, inspired. Its strongest point is its almost complete reliance on the whim of the disc jockey. WBZ and WEEI both play computerized rock and roll, not particularly progressive, and not too low-key. Both the music and the announcing reminds one of WPLJ-FM in New York.
If you've got no money, but you've got a car, listen to AM radio. WRKO is the AM leader--music, patter, pimple cream and boutique ads. But they often bend the playlist a little. I heard the full version of Yes's "Roundabout" there, and just today I heard the full five and one-half minutes of Jeff Beck's "Ice Cream Cakes." These occasional album cuts are the result of a successful attempt to undercut WMEX's listernership. MEX, under new management, dropped the album cuts, and picked up the games, commercials and patter for a reason no one's been able to figure out to date. WILD produces good rhythm and blues at 1090 from sunup to sundown weekdays and broadcasts Black Muslim Mosque services on Sundays. Out in Newton, WNTN plays strictly progressive rock, and very well, from sunup to sundown daily.
Martha and the Vandellas said, "There'll be music everywhere" in "Dancing in the Street." And this summer there will be music everywhere, from the playgrounds in the North End, to Boston Common, and from the intimacy of the small jazz club to the cavern of Boston Garden.