It happened as soon as the lights came on and a huge red banner featuring the Mighty Mighty Bosstones mascot, a snarling bulldog, unfurled behind the stage at Toad’s Place last Saturday. As the band launched into their first song, the previously docile crowd reacted as if shocked with electricity.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a Boston-based band that has been playing their unique brand of ska and punk rock for almost a decade, are still riding on the success of their 1997 album, “Let’s Face It.” The Bosstones have established a loyal following in Connecticut, as last week’s show demonstrated.
It didn’t seem to matter that the Bosstones only played for about 50 minutes last Saturday night. It also didn’t seem to matter that frontman Dicky Barrett’s growling vocals were barely audible above the din of the band’s horn section.
What mattered was energy. Both band and audience shared a strong mutual vibe during the performance.
The eight-piece band drew from all phases of their career during the intense musical barrage. They torched through early favorites such as “Simmer Down” and the driving “Where Did You Go?” as well as songs from the successful “Let’s Face It.” The Bosstones also featured two new songs from their 2000 album, “Pay Attention.” They played the ska-based “All Things Considered” and the gentle, melodic “She Just Happened.”
The band’s sound was not impeded by the small club venue at any point during the performance. The three-man horn section, though not as precise as on studio recordings, was surprisingly solid, comprising the backbone of song after song. Guitarist Lawrence Katz unleashed a soaring solo during “The Rascal King” and alternated well between funky ska motifs and raucous power chords throughout the show.
Even when lacking vocal coherency, Barrett was a charismatic stage presence and connected immediately with the New Haven fans. The Boston native drew warm cheers for his jokes about the New York Yankees, and only mild jeers when he proclaimed Harvard superior to Yale.
Barrett also poked fun at new President George W. Bush after spying him on a television screen in the bar. “Every time I see him, he’s saying ‘There was this meeting I didn’t go to but I’m going to tell you what happened anyway,'” Barrett said. “I would break down crying when I listen to him if he didn’t make me laugh so hard.”
The undisputed highlight of the show was the band’s performance of their chart-topping hit from “Let’s Face It,” “The Impression That I Get.” The crowd sang along with the chorus of “I’ve never had to knock on wood” so enthusiastically that it made Barrett’s introduction of “here’s one you probably know” a marked understatement. Tenor saxophonist Roman Fleysher capped the song with a sharp, jazzy solo.
The band’s performance did have its shortcomings. The casual fan would have had a difficult time deciphering Barrett’s gruffly delivered lyrics, and the show’s duration was too brief even by punk rock standards. But the mostly youthful audience didn’t seem to mind, turning Toad’s into a chaotic dance hall from the first note to the last guitar chord. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are clearly a band that attracts a loyal fan base, and they found that fan base in New Haven Saturday night.
Opening acts Cooter and Lost City Angels both supplied the crowd with short but energetic sets of punk and grunge rock, but received only a lukewarm reception from Bosstones fans.