The Bosstones Give Houston a Mighty, Mighty Expert Show

Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Mighty Mighty Bosstones Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones
House of Blues
July 6, 2018

These days, everyone and no one is an expert.

For example, those who currently govern the nation have no more credentialed experience for the job than the insufferable blowhards around the water cooler at your workplace. The only difference is your blowhard co-workers aren't resigning their positions every few days. And how many chowderheads with comparable abilities as the pimply-faced, average high school newspaper scribe are banding together to call themselves "journalists" and their biased outlets "news sources?" In the end, they have no staying power or real influence.

So, as we were reminded by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones last night at House of Blues, it's an exceptional thing when a large group of people who are truly adept at their work come together. Seeing these musicians and showmen exact their musical and entertainment prowess for a couple of hours isn't just a good time — it'll remind you that diverse people with actual talent and a common objective can unite to create something special and lasting for us all. As is frequently the case, those lessons come courtesy of the dance hall.

The Bosstones have been on the job going all the way back to 1983. They've had time to hone their skills and that refinement means brilliant live shows for their followers, last night's rabid crowd included. They know they are good at what they do. As the band's front man Dicky Barrett told us weeks ago, "I think that we’re a good live band. We pride ourselves on it, we try to be, and if we left the stage and the consensus was ‘That sucked,’ I think we’d probably not do it.”

click to enlarge Dick Barrett (foreground) - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Dick Barrett (foreground)
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

That assuredly was not the consensus when Bosstones departed Houston's ranks after two hours of skilled performance last night. Pulling gems from four decades' worth of recordings, including the latest album, While We're At It, they kept the crowd moving with dance-ready hits like "Dr. D" and "Hope I Never Lose My Wallet" and moved by poignant tunes like "Let's Face It" and the newest single, "Wonderful Day For the Race."

Dressed nattily in red blazers and black slacks, the band looked sharp and sounded sharper, taking skankin' followers on trips back to 1989's Devil's Night Out (the afore-mentioned "Wallet"), the mega-hit "Someday I Suppose" from 1993's Don't Know How to Party and right up to new tunes released only a few months ago ("Green Bay, Wisconsin;" "The Constant"). The crowd was receptive to the new stuff but reserved its most frenetic dancing and enthusiastic singing for tracks from the breakthrough album, 1997's Let's Face It. "The Rascal King" appeared early in the set list to get the crowd tuned for a long night of singing. Barrett, who writes most of the band's lyrics, introduced the titular track by saying its lyrics were (unfortunately) as relevant today as they were when he wrote them two decades ago.

There's an underlying message to the Bosstones' music, one that doesn't require Barrett to proselytize from center stage. When he brings the kids up, as he did for "Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah," or fellow bands out for the uplifting Johnny Nash cover "I Can See Clearly Now," he's fulfilling the Bosstones' promise to unify through music. No matter who you were, you sang that one last night. Songs like "Everybody's Better" — high in the set list — and show closer "A Pretty Sad Excuse" remind us all to be humble in light of our successes. And, the band's biggest hit, "The Impression That I Get," resonated with Houston last night. After all we've been through in the last year (don't tell us this week's floods didn't trigger some Harvey-related flashbacks), we know what it's like to knock on wood when we are spared or survive life's difficulties. The band and the crowd joined in a mighty, mighty chorus for that highlighted song.

click to enlarge Bosstones' resident dancer, vocalist and hypeman Ben Carr (L)  with Barrett - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Bosstones' resident dancer, vocalist and hypeman Ben Carr (L) with Barrett
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Personal Bias: The openers were heckin’ great and made us feel at home. Los Kung Fu Monkeys are old timers with Mexican roots, just like me. They were remiss that it's been 14 years since their last trip here, in spite of being besties with our own Los Skarnales.  Their spirited set has us hoping they will return very soon. And, of course, Los Skarnales are legendary Houston musicos. They crushed it - but you already know that if you've ever seen them even once (and what self-respecting Houston ska fan has not???) These openers reminded me of a longtime love affair Houston Latinos have with ska music, which continues today with acts like Fuska and The Skatastrophics, whose own members dotted the crowd.

It was a little dismaying to learn tour mates Buster Shuffle had to drop to return to the U.K. for a family emergency. Their slot on the bill - along with the Bosstones and Los Kung Fu Monkeys, from Tijuana - proves ska music is a universal genre that knocks down barriers. It's a shame Houston didn't get to see South London's promising act, but here's hoping they and their loved ones are well. 

The Crowd: Monks and rockers and Bosstones freaks. Punks and skunks and kooks and geeks.

Random Notebook Dump: On my way to the last pee of the night (sorry, it's a reality) I saw Los Skarnales' keyboardist Richard Molina. He'd just left the stage after playing percussion for the Bosstones' biggest hit, "The Impression That I Get." He shook my hand and his head and said, "Mind fucking blown."  Moments earlier, Dicky Barrett was wearing a Los Skarnales tee and repping the Vatos Rudos. That was just about the best thing I've ever seen while covering H-town music. Dammit, I love this gig. Go see some live music tonight!
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.