VENERABLE: With 15-plus years under their belts, the Unseen are the longest-lived winners in this year’s local poll.
We have seen the face of Boston rock and roll, and it’s got painted-on eyebrows. What sort of deep, meaningful conclusions about Boston 2007 can we draw from the results of this year’s Best Music Poll? For starters, you folks really like the Dresden Dolls. Thank you, and good night.
In fact, this year’s results say a lot about how one band — or to be fair, two bands — can capture a city’s love and imagination. For much of this millennium, the two boundaries of Boston rock have been claimed by two bands, with the Dresden Dolls representing the edgier side and the Dropkick Murphys the rowdier one. Neither band had any serious challenge to its throne this year: the Dropkicks were kicked upstairs to the national poll, where they topped the punk category with more than twice the votes of anyone else. The Dolls remained in the local poll (for the last time, I’d wager), where they managed the cleanest sweep in its history. Not only did they win virtually every category in which they qualified, they placed in a few where they don’t: They got a few votes as Best Punk Act, ten as Best World Act. Three people even thought they were the best blues band in town.
And really, who deserves it more? The standard putdown of the Dresden Dolls — that they’re artsy types with nothing to do with rock and roll — just doesn’t apply anymore, as the tougher stance on their sophomore album, Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner), makes clear. In fact, they’re the most aggressive guitar-free band to come out of Boston since Birdsongs of the Mesozoic; and I’ve witnessed the rude shock experienced by people who’ve seen Palmer sit down at the piano and expected her to sound like Tori Amos. Throwing a subversive spin on issues both social and sexual, her songs are arguably as “punk” as any of the working-class anthems put out by the Dropkicks. Besides, art and punk have coexisted comfortably in Boston ever since the Velvet Underground played the Tea Party.
But the proverbial road never runs smooth, and Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione haven’t necessarily had the most enviable year. They had a moment of triumph just in time for last year’s poll, commandeering the Orpheum for the release party of Yes, Virginia—never before has that theater looked so colorful. But summer brought a tour with Panic! At the Disco, whose teenybopper fans didn’t always take kindly to the Dolls. Last winter, The Onion Cellar, Palmer’s collaboration with the American Repertory Theatre, proved a star-crossed project with its 11th-hour rewrites, though they ultimately carried it off to great success. At the moment, Palmer and Viglione are taking their first major break from each other; she’s making a solo album in Nashville with Ben Folds producing; he’s touring with Humanwine (the pair will reunite this summer as part of the gay-themed True Colors tour). Time will tell if they’re winding down as a duo or just recharging.
Time will also tell if Boys Like Girls, who easily took the Best New Band category, are the next major Boston band, or just this year’s Click Five. In any case the photogenic quartet leapfrogged over everyone slogging on the club circuit to build a national following through MySpace and a major-label deal. So far they look like the perfect band for those who outgrew Panic! At the Disco after the Dolls tour.
For more proof that things haven’t changed much this year, head to the local punk category, topped by a band who’ve been around even longer than the Dropkick Murphys. With 15-plus years under their belts, the Unseen are the longest-lived winners in the batch. Their punk-with-hooks mix sounds current today; and the Dropkicks have helped their career resurge by having them open some shows. And they can take satisfaction in finishing three notches above Darkbuster, authors of the song “I Hate the Unseen.” Other categories evince an abiding love for tried-and-true sounds, whether it’s old-school, socially conscious rap (7L & Esoteric), or doomy punk-metal (Killswitch Engage). Even the ascent of the Boston Afrobeat Society is a throwback of sorts, recalling the days when the likes of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Adé, and Ebenezer Obey would play Boston on a regular basis.
If the upper echelons of Boston rock are pretty much secure, there’s been a bit of action on the lower levels. And glancing over the rest of the results, we find a pretty wild mix of local music eras and characters. Indeed, the winners represent a good three decades of local rock, from stalwarts Mission of Burma (who came in third as Best Act) to Best Live Act winner Bang Camaro, who formed only last year. The latter band hit on an idea that couldn’t really miss — paying homage to the celestial harmonies of ’80s hair-metal by hiring enough singers (20) to do it all live. They join the likes of the Upper Crust and Waltham as great high-concept bands that someone would’ve had to make up if they didn’t already exist. Theatrical rock looks to be having a renaissance lately, to judge from Bang Camaro’s win and runners-up the Campaign for Real Time, UV Protection, and of course, the Dresden Dolls.