By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
By Arrissia Owen
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
Photo courtesy of Boston HomepageIn 2003, it's acceptable to cop to a number of guilty aural pleasures: Abba, vintage disco tunes, Duran Duran. My guiltiest of pleasures is Boston.
When I say I like Boston, what I mean is that I liked their first album, the 1976 self-titled monster that sold 16 million copies. It was the album every high school stoner purchased—usually along with copies of Frampton Comes Alive! and that Kansas album that had That One Song on it—at Licorice Pizza.
It was an album of such resonance that all eight tracks are still in rotation on KLOS. For who could ever deny the omnipresent power of "More Than a Feeling"? Or "Foreplay/Long Time"? Or "Smokin'"? Or "Hitch a Ride"? Or singer Brad Delp's otherworldly, nutsack-in-a-blender howl? Or that famed Boston sound—a wall of soaring, impossibly histrionic guitars pumped through a series of high-tech gadgetry (well, high-tech for the '70s, anyway), fine-tuned by group leader Tom Scholz, an MIT grad with a master's degree in mechanical engineering?
The Scholz/Boston sound was big and sweeping and grandiose and flamboyant—gay showtune music for straight, white, '70s suburban boys, basically, created by a math geek who probably dreamed of rocking out like Sabbath or Zep, but alas, never could.
Boston were powerful enough in 1976 to reach down through two or three demographics and touch eight-year-old me, who could listen to Boston only on a crappy AM transistor radio. And when you're eight, and you hear this sound transmitting over the airwaves, it was like hearing the voice of God uttering the unpronounceable words that preceded the creation.
Problem was, this god was a pretty kick-ass musician, but he didn't have dick to say. Indeed, Boston's greatest handicap was its retardo-supremo song lyrics, often penned by Scholz. Take the deep profundities of "Smokin'": "Smokin', smokin'/We're cookin' tonight, just keep on tokin'/Smokin', smokin'/I feel all right, mamma, I'm not jokin'/Yeah." Or these lines from "Party": "You know a man doesn't live on bread alone/He's got to have some lovin' each and every night/And a woman's got to have it if the truth be known/Let's get together honey, it's all right." Or these, from "What's Your Name": "Total attraction/You're driving me insane/A chain reaction/Baby, tell me what's your name/Baby, what's your name?/Come on girl, what's your name?/Oh, look out."
These are lyrics that make REO Speedwagon sound like Rimbaud. Know what happens when math geeks try to write songs? Boston happens.
Boston released four albums since that fabulous debut, but none have touched its majesty—or its secret influence: what's the deified "Smells Like Teen Spirit" riff but merely a reheated "More Than a Feeling"? Indeed, when the band plays the Pacific Amphitheater Sunday night, I doubt anyone will want to hear anything but those eight songs, plus maybe one or two from 1978's Don't Look Back, and maybe even that awful "Amanda" song from 1986's big comeback album Third Stage. But Scholz seems to be the stubborn-cuss type, so he'll likely go off into the yawners from their latest album, the non-ironically titled Corporate America, which has equally non-ironic lyrics like—don't laugh, Boston haters—"We idolize the filthy rich for giving us synthetic taste."
I admit they're not the most exciting of live bands. Like their peers in Steely Dan and the Eagles, they pretty much just stand there and replicate their recordings note-for-note. I saw Boston at the Forum back in '87, and the only thing I remember about the show was that I bought a button. And thank god: if I hadn't done that, I probably would've forgotten I went at all.
Yeah, so Boston are kind of a museum piece, and Scholz is hopelessly trapped in the '70s, with enough of an ego that he apparently thinks that since his first album sold 16 million copies, then all of them have to, even though all of the Boston albums are mostly knockoffs of the first one, and the guy goes eight years between putting out new music (it takes eight years to come up with those lyrics?). I see Scholz is suing his current record label, Artemis, for failing to market and promote Corporate America to his satisfaction—since its release last November, it's reportedly sold just 120,000 copies. I just checked a music-biz website, where I read snarky lines about how Scholz should file suit against the American public for not buying his record, and that the band "should just accept they won't sell a million records anymore," said acceptance requiring them to "live the way Kansas does . . . playing to aging potheads and geeks at summer tour/lakeshore festivals and get over it."
And perhaps that's all true, and maybe time does indeed prove a harsh mistress for a Best New Artist Grammy-nominated band once thought of as genius for the length of just one album. Ah, but what an album—the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.
BOSTON AT THE PACIFIC AMPHITHEATRE, 100 FAIR DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-3247. SUN., 7:30 P.M. $28.50-$54.50.