Monday, January 16, 2012

Scud Mountain Boys @ Brighton Music Hall

In the summer of 1997, my second oldest friend—in terms of how long we've been friends, not his actual age—El-Squared and I drove to Albany—where I had lived until a year prior—to see our first Wilco concert. It was at a now burnt-down venue called Saratoga Winners, where I had previously seen my only Jayhawks show featuring their original lineup, until recently.

Wilco was fantastic, of course, but my lasting image of that show was the impact the opening act—none other than western Massachusetts' Scud Mountain Boys—had on me. Or, on us, for that matter. We both purchased their recent Sub Pop release, Massachusetts, and El-Squared even recalls a brief conversation he had with members of the band in which they told him that, unfortunately, the Scuds were soon to be no more.

From what I've read elsewhere on the internet, the band was broken up by July of 1997. The Saratoga Winners show was in June, so we know we saw one of—if not the—last show(s) in Scud Mountain Boys history. That is, prior to this week.

The band might have gone on to become one of my favorites had they stayed together, but it was not to be. Instead, the show in question turned out to be the catalyst for what has become my long history as a huge fan of all things Joe Pernice.

Pernice was the leader of the Scuds, and it was his departure that was, for all intents and purposes, the end of their existence. He would go on to found the Pernice Brothers, who still hold the distinction as the only act to top my year-end list twice. Because of this, I've often referred to myself as, quite possibly, their #1 fan, but I'm not going to ramble on about my Pernice Brothers reverence right now. If you care to read more on that subject, it's discussed in detail here.

The breakup of the Scud Mountain Boys led to a rift in the friendship between Pernice and his former bandmates, most notably Stephen Desaulniers and Bruce Tull. Recently, though, the death of a close friend was the unfortunate motivation for getting the band back together for a reunion tour.

That tour brought Pernice, Desaulniers, Tull and Tom Shea to Boston's Brighton Music Hall Saturday night for just their second show in 15 years. At one point during the performance, Pernice briefly explained the story, and in the same breath, dedicated the show to the memory of Ray Neades.

Fittingly, El-Squared joined me for Saturday night's show as well. A few days prior, in an email I told him it was going to feel like 15 years ago. That seemed like an exaggeration at the time, but it came pretty close. That is, it was a club show at an uncrowded small venue, which allowed us to stand right up in front of the stage.

Despite my proximity to the stage, I have to admit I didn't get any good photos. I'm not sure if I should blame my camera phone's inability to deal with the combination of dimly lit venue and bright lights onstage, that damn lamp they placed on the table they're all sitting around, or my abilities as a photographer, but this was honestly the best I could do:

L to R: Pernice, Shea, Desaulniers, Tull

OK, I'm quite certain it's a combination of all those factors, but I'm sure I could use some iPhone photography pointers as well.

Speaking of the aforementioned table, the story goes that back in their formative days, the band evolved from a rock outfit to one more inclined towards country music—and added Mountain Boys to their original name, the Scuds—when they realized they most enjoyed their sessions sitting around Tull's kitchen table. In fact, that's exactly where their first two albums, Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, were recorded.

Saturday night's set list drew heavily from their swan song, Massachusetts, but considering they only released three albums during their short-lived existence, they had little difficulty adding a handful of tunes from each of the earlier records.

Highlights for me were a show-opening stretch of four older songs, from "Peter Graves' Anatomy" to "Freight of Fire" on the set list below, Desaulnier's plaintive lead vocal on "Liquor Store," and a predictably rousing version of my favorite Scuds song, Pernice's ode to drunken stupor, "Lift Me Up."

Peter Graves' Anatomy
Sangre de Cristo
Freight of Fire
Grudge F***
In a Ditch
Lift Me Up
Penthouse in the Woods
Liquor Store (Desaulniers on lead vocals)
Cigarette Sandwich
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover, Tull on lead vocals)
One Hand
: Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves (Cher cover)

The biggest highlight of the night, though, was the feeling we were witnessing a reunion of good friends who had—and still have—tremendous musical chemistry, and who could take another 15 years off from playing together and still pick up exactly where they left off.

That, of course, underscored a personally nostalgic feeling that my pal and I were going back in time to experience something that was fairly commonplace 15 years ago, but which was made all the more special by its rarity in the present day.


  1. Interestingly, Steve D had already left the Scuds by the time of that show at Saratoga Wieners. Ray Neades was there, the guy that Joe dedicated the original lineup reunion show in Boston to, as he was one of my best friends. I played bass on that night, and like Ray, I'm pretty portly. Tweedy confused me with Ray as we were moving my bass gear off the stage, and he told Ray Neades that he'd played a great set, and he really like his bass playing. :)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Frank, and for the clarification. I read on Wikipedia that Steve D. left the band in 1996, and you replaced him, but that confused me, considering it wasn't mentioned in any other articles I read.

    So, I guess whether or not Steve D. harbored resentment towards Joe for breaking up the band is debatable?

    Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting. The Tweedy story is pretty funny. Unfortunately, I missed your set on Saturday night as it took me over a half hour to find parking. :(