VIDEO: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Where'd You Go?"
Dicky Barrett is on his cellphone from Atlanta. He’s with Jimmy Kimmel in Atlanta for the Falcons’ Monday Night Football battle with the Giants. Kimmel’s scheduled to do a quick spot in the booth, and Dicky, the Boston boy who spent a decade and a half fronting the Mighty Mighty Bosstones before moving to LA and scoring a gig as Kimmel’s announcer, is along for the ride.
Suddenly, there’s chatter in the background. It’s Kimmel. Barrett tells him to be quiet; he’s doing an interview. “I thought it was 2007,” replies Kimmel. Barrett laughs. The implication is that Barrett’s days as the subject of an interview ended five years ago, when the Bosstones called it quits after all that slogging it out on the road as a perennial Warped Tour favorite with a Phish-like following. But in the wake of a surprise announcement that the band will be donning their trademark pressed plaid suits for a “Hometown Throwdown” (five shows at the Middle East downstairs, December 26-30), Barrett is suddenly back in the hot seat. (Tickets for the shows sold out in 15 minutes.)
Throughout the ’90s, the Bosstones’ Hometown Throwdown was the rock-and-roll equivalent of The Nutcracker. You could count on it every December. It began at the Middle East in 1995 before moving to the Rat, Axis, the Paradise, and just about any other club that would have it. It was Christmas in clubland — or, as Barrett used to say, a way of recapturing the joy he used to feel at Christmas when he was a kid, before commercialism over-ran the holiday and cynicism kicked in.
In 2003, the Bosstones said there would be no Throwdown. And, in effect, no more Bosstones. No one called it a “break-up,” but the band were no longer on active duty. On their Web site, they called it a “hiatus.” Barrett told me back in 2003 that this was not a nail in the coffin, saying, cryptically, “There’s no real beginning and no real ending. I hope it lives in my heart forever.”
All the same, an era had ended, for the band and its legion of second-generation ska-punk fans, who were stoked by the group’s aggressive, brassy, upbeat sound, and by Barrett’s Lemmy-like bark.
“We’d been out on the road close to 20 years,” says Barrett, now 43. “And that’s the only way you can do the Bosstones. But it’s a grind. I could’ve rock-and-rolled till nobody wanted me to anymore, but it was nice to leave early and have people say, ‘Don’t go away.’ We crossed all the finish lines; we went way past what we imagined. We’re all really good friends. We created it, so it doesn’t have to go by any other guidelines. If you want to say, ‘We broke up,’ feel free, but it was always a different thing, a rare bird.
“The stars aligned where a lot of us had other options,” adds bassist Joe Gittleman, now 39, in a separate conversation. “We were at an age where we looked at doing different things. There were times [with the Bosstones] where my enthusiasm waned, but Dicky would pick up the ball, or he would look to me to pick up the ball. But there was a time we both landed in the same place. We’d been doing it so long. We’d spent most of our adult lives out on the road. The Bosstones don’t deserve to be driven on autopilot. There has to be excitement and energy.”
And so the band scattered, with both Barrett and Gittleman relocating to LA. Gittleman formed the pop-punk band Avoid One Thing, and they released two albums. Drummer Joe Sirois played for a time in Frank Black’s band. Saxist Tim Burton played on a Cypress Hill album. And trombonist Chris Rhodes toured as part of Less Than Jake. Meanwhile, original Bosstones guitarist Nate Albert, who’d left the band in 1998, formed his own short-lived band, the Kickovers, and moved into producing. (Albert is expected to make at least one cameo at the “Throwdown.”)
It was Gittleman’s idea to round up the troops — namely guitarist Lawrence Katz, drummer Joe Sirois, saxophonists Burton and Roman Fleysher, trombonist Rhodes, and dancer Ben Carr. But not just for the Throwdown. The Bosstones are going into the studio to record three new songs, and they plan to release them (along with previously unreleased material and vinyl B-sides) on a CD called Medium Rare before the Throwdown.
It came about through serendipity. “I was screwing around on the Internet one day,” says Gittleman, “and I came across the Bosstones MySpace page, which I’d never really seen, and I got really emotional and nostalgic. I started corresponding with people [in the band], and one thing led to the next. It’s such a huge part of my life. I thought, ‘Let’s not put it to bed by dropping it on the floor.’ ”
“I miss the city of Boston quite a bit,” says Barrett. “But I missed the Throwdown most. It’s not like we’re coming back to work at the pizza parlor. We’re asking them to come back to something very fun and memorable. It’s like if you were in the Army with a bunch of guys, you want to come back and have a barbecue.”
Just how long that barbecue will last is an open question. Gittleman: “We’re not looking very far past [the Throwdown], because I’m looking forward to it so much in and of itself. It’s a huge thing to get going. I’d love to play some more and work on music. Will we go back on the road like we did? No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love playing those tunes.”
“We’ll play it by ear,” says Barrett. “Figure it out as we go.”
Oh, and Barrett says he won’t be sporting flaming orange hair, as he once did. It’s natural now, an adult mix of black and gray.
MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES HOMETOWN THROWDOWN | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | December 26-30 | 617.864.EAST