At Home in Beantown

JOE GITTLEMAN Bassist, Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Bassist Joe Gittleman insists that the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is not a rock-ska hybrid exclusively designed for or accepted by college-bound students like you and me.

"I would not want [the Bosstones] to be considered a college band," he says. "Actually, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with college."

Whatever the motivations may be, a rejection of higher education or simply the resistance to limiting the group's fan base by specifying a target audience, the notion that the Bosstones deny their unbelievably tenacious link to college music scenes all over the country seems absurd. With the growing popularity of the single "The Impression That I Get" from their most radio friendly album ever, Let's Face It, the number of potential fans has obviously grown.

But being chosen as part of the 40 minute loops played on such adult album alternative (AAA) stations as KISS and WBOS certainly hasn't affected the core audience for the Bosstones--a devoted group that the band cannot deny as their claim to fame and as an inseparable part of their live shows.

"I don't give a fuck about those [AAA] listeners," says Gittleman, "I don't expect them to come and see us play."


And that is what the Bosstones are really all about: Connecting with the genuine fan base and music scenes that embraced them from the beginning by rocking out with melodic ska-core crunches and lead singer Dick Barrett's guttural chants that so many crowds flock to experience. Although they are "a constant, hardworking touring band playing over 300 shows a year," the Bosstones know that "Boston is a great place to play" and their hometown is where they experience the warmest embrace.

Boston, with its huge population of willing college and adolescent devotees and its history of producing great ska bands, served as a perfect city to nurture the band from the outset. Growing up in Boston exposed Gittleman and other members to old school Boston punk and ska bands such as Bim Skala Bim, DYS, Stranglehold and the Dogmatics. The stage was set and with the only changes being a new drummer and added horns in 1990, the band has been consistently blasting out their defining ska-core sounds for over ten years with a constant line-up.

Giving back to this community that helped raise them to international success, the Bosstones have graced Cambridge's "creative and cool" Middle East for the past three years with their Hometown Throwdown. This year is no different, and for five consecutive nights, from December 10-14, the band returns to Central Square to satiate the already sold-out crowds. The Throwdown highlights the band's commitment to its fans and the rock music scene here, emphasizing the fact that Boston is the tie that binds them together.

From immediate gratification of the live show to the compassion of transforming their music and motivation into addressing a local issue, the Bosstones have readily contributed to Safe and Sound, an organized response by Boston musicians to the Brookline Clinic murders a few years back. Although Gittleman feels releasing the Safe and Sound benefit album last year was "a selfish thing to do, at the time, the shootings rocked the city and [the record] was a way to feel better about the situation." It raised money and awareness and represented the intimacy of the Boston music community. The first performance of the Hometown Throwdown this year will benefit Safe and Sound and includes appearances by Letters to Cleo, Tracy Bonham and Juliana Hatfield.

Another significant upcoming performance for the Bosstones is a New Years Eve jam ("The Last Blast of '97") at the Worcester Centrum. A couple of their favorite contemporary bands, ska veterans Bim Skala Bim (yes, they're still around and making great music) and the street-smart punk posse Dropkick Murphys, open up the wholly Providence and Boston-based concert.

All of these appearances are on the heel of Let's Face It, the Bosstones most enjoyable, commercially successful and varied effort to date. Some fans may have been disappointed by the toned-down gruffness of Barrett's vocals or the album's refined pop-readiness, but, as Gittleman notes, "[the Bosstones] go a different direction on every record." This year's approach brought the band straight to the pop music airwaves, but Gittleman explains radio popularity as a result of the "new temperature of mainstream music [which is] different than when previous albums were released."

"Devil's Night Out would have done great this year," says Gittleman, a little too unconvincingly. The comment is certainly an exaggeration, seeing that the release was too rough around the edges for any commercial radio station to gladly welcome. The atmosphere of rock music, especially the "ska craze," described by Gittleman as being generated by "radio and MTV getting too excited," was more likely the boost for the popularity of Let's Face It. Devil's Night Out never would have made the newly defined cut.

In retrospect, the band can't complain about the long journey to stardom--little has changed conceptually for them. Even though the Mighty Mighty Bosstones has become a name of instant recognition instead of a moniker to be passed around among indie crowd, the band holds dear to its roots. The group continues to prefer the intimacy of the Middle East club to offer up their unique sound to the new and veteran fans, but getting them to move down one T stop to Harvard Square may be more difficult.

Hesitatingly, Gittleman initially balks at the suggestion of playing a college such as Harvard. But in order to avoid falling off the fine line between sincere opinion and publicity personality, he replies, "We've played places stranger than Harvard."