Monday, November 20, 2017

Live Shows: Letters to Cleo & Blake Babies, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA 11/16/17

In what now appears to be a November tradition, Letters to Cleo came back to their hometown of Boston for a three night stand last week. This year's trio of shows was soaked in nostalgia (the Paradise was playing a pretty generic 90's alt-rock playlist with everything from Pixies to The New Radicals represented) with the band playing one of their albums in its entirety each night. This particular night was 1993's Aurora Gory Alice. 

Blake Babies opened up the evening (and all three nights) with a rare performance. The trio of Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love-Smith are a much beloved Boston institution and could have easily played their own trio of shows. Since the three are now spread out over Cambridge, Chicago, and Nashville, seeing them reform is far too rare of a treat for fans. The band played at their charmingly sloppy best, including their cover of Mission of Burma's "From Here to Burma" and a heartbreakingly glorious version of "Rain." Strohm joked that the song was their new video on MTV, hearkening back to the days when that was actually a thing. [Side note: After their set, the couple next to me declared that the singer of Blake Babies had a "Juliana Hatfield vibe," and then Googled the band, only to discover that the singer was actually Juliana Hatfield.]

Letters to Cleo started off the show with Aurora Gory Alice's first song, "Big Star." They proceeded to go with that album from start to finish, playing "Rim Shak," their loudest song by far and traditionally a set closer, third. Obviously there were no surprises in the first half of the set, but complete treats for fans with live versions of the rarely (if ever!) seen songs "From Under the Dust" and "Step Back." The band took a short break and then came back for an encore (?) of what were referred to as fan favorites. What's odd is that if you had told me that they were going to play more songs from Go! than they would from Wholesale Meats and Fish, I would have been disappointed. But during the show nostalgia took over and I didn't even notice with such classics from Go! like "Spaklegirl" and "Veda Very Shining." They did play two songs off last year's Back to Nebraska EP and, of course, their cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

For a band that has only played a handful of shows since reuniting last year, Letters to Cleo are an incredibly tight band, and even more polished than they were at their peak twenty or so years ago. It might be that just about all members are now session and touring musicians or producers these days. Plus, the only non-original member from their heyday is bassist Joe Klompus (Jack Drag, Orangutang) replacing Scott Riebling. Kay Hanley even got a bit nostalgic, realizing that Aurora Gory Alice was twenty four years old and that many members of the crowd had been coming to their shows since they were teenagers. Looking around the audience, so many faces looked familiar, even if you couldn't place them. It makes me wonder how many of the people I chatted with between bands at Lupo's, Salem State, TT the Bear's, Pearl Street, and more were still coming to see them two decades later. Like I said, it was a nostalgic night.

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