By Michael James
Two years ago, I was a music geek still getting to know the city and its venues, trying to see live shows as often as I could afford to. One night in November I ended up at the Middle East (Upstairs) to see a little alt-rock band out of Austin called Quiet Company. The place was nearly empty when I showed up and didn’t get much better over the next couple hours. I noticed the headliners were there, collected in a corner. The frontman was mingling, thanking everybody for coming out. They’d just been in New York, so I asked about the hurricane. He said it’d felt like a ghost town. I wanted to say, “Sorry it’s not much better up here,” and look around the room, see the twelve audience members, the kids sitting on the edge of the stage. A few minutes later, those same kids climbed on stage. They were the opening act. It was just three of them, all looking pretty young. Their opening line was something like, “Hi. We’re Lady Bones.”
It was a short set. It was loud. The guy on guitar and vocals was using his Boss Feedbacker pedal a lot. Despite the noise level, there was proficiency all around with sharp guitar, bass you can actual hear pulling a string of rhythm through the static, and drums getting torn apart. The stage was too small for this stuff. I wanted to hear it under high ceilings, a warehouse or a church, and I wanted these guys to be spread far apart: 30 feet away from each other, 50 feet. I wanted to get close to one instrument, say, “Goddamn,” and move on to the next one. It was one of those atmospheric, light-headed moments when you realize you’re gonna be hooked on this stuff for a long time.
I’m talking to (i.e. corresponding with) Jeremy Jackson, the bass player. He describes his bandmates: “The svelte blonde twink is Sean Gilston, and he plays guitar and sings. And the swol behemoth behind the drum kit is Egon Ryan.” Jackson and Gilston are childhood friends, but it wasn’t until meeting Ryan that they formed Lady Bones in 2007.
The result is a sound that’s hard to label, and that’s probably for the best.
“As a band we’ve tried to keep our music interesting by avoiding being classified as a specific genre. I think that’s something that ends up destroying a lot of bands. When you confine yourself to a specific sound, it’s hard to be creative.” They still give the music a name, though: ugly pop.
While still in high school, they recorded Rotten Thoughts, their first full-length. After that came 3 Songs and, in 2013, the split release of a cassette featuring two new tracks. Now they’re working on another LP to be released in early 2015.
As far as shows, Lady Bones are veterans of Allston’s underground scene. (They’re regulars at bar venues like O’Brien’s and Great Scott.) But Allston’s reputation as a sanctuary for local bands and concertgoers is starting to change, and Jackson has a few thoughts on the tragedy.
“It’s a real shame that all of the DIY spaces that made the [Allston] music scene so accessible and allowed it to thrive were shut down.” It’s got a lot to do with the sheer number of house show venues that used to exist in the All-Brite area.
“In the course of one weekend last year, I would venture to say that 95% of all house show spaces in the immediate area were shut down.” Without this crucial element, the remaining selection of venues is bleak.
“Not to knock either venue … but when your only two options to see live music are O’Briens and Great Scott, the whole idea of Allston ‘rock city’ kind of goes down the drain.”
The second time I saw Lady Bones, they were playing Great Scott. I’d never been there before, so my expectations were based completely on its reputation as a small, cheap place to see a show. But more than anything else, it was about seeing the band. I had a couple musically-intelligent friends along, and I was excited to watch them swoon over a new favorite. Again, there are about 20 people in the bar. Again, most of them are members of the three bands playing tonight. Two beers have been dropped already. The clean-up process isn’t all that thorough or effective. There’s a stain in the shape of a puddle that will probably be there until the place gets torn down. It doesn’t matter; the walls and tables and every other surface has got a layer of genuine Allston grime.
It’s another short set because, again, they’re the first act. They hit a couple tracks from Rotten Thoughts, one from 3 Songs, and then play a few more I’ve never heard. The few seconds between songs are painfully quiet. When it’s over, my friends take pictures of the stage on their phones. I ask what they thought.
“I’d go see ‘em, like if they were playing a show on their own.”
I was expecting a more violent reaction, positive or negative. “Pretty good,” means nothing. Are they pretty good? Is that it? Why wasn’t anyone at the show? It’s been a year, hasn’t anyone caught on yet?
Nowadays, there’s a following, but it’s small. Very small. More accurately, it’s smaller than I think it should be. There’s been a disconnect somewhere. It could be underexposure or it could be venues setting most of their shows at 21+. It might be the amorphous sound that slips away from attempts at classification.
My small comfort in all this is that Lady Bones is going to stick around, playing rough-edge shows to however many people show up until the day God smites Allston Village for its many mortal sins.