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MUSIC REVIEW

New Kids, new format lift BMAs

Afro-Caribbean group Zili Misik, which won outstanding international music act, was the life of the Boston Music Awards party on Sunday. Afro-Caribbean group Zili Misik, which won outstanding international music act, was the life of the Boston Music Awards party on Sunday. (Justine Hunt/ Globe Staff)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / December 9, 2008
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Despite being revamped for its 21st birthday, for a moment Sunday night, the Boston Music Awards felt decidedly old school - more 1988 than 2008. That instant came when New Kids on the Block - yes, those NKOTB - won the award for national act of the year. As two of the all-grown-up Kids, Donnie Wahlberg and Jordan Knight, took the podium on the Roxy stage, the air around them seemed a little surreal.

"We haven't had one of these in a long time," cracked Wahlberg. Twenty years ago, he recalled, the Kids were nominated for a Grammy - and lost to Milli Vanilli. "We'd rather have this any day," he said.

With a few catcalls ringing out from the competition - namely hip-hop artist Termanology's posse, who shouted "Who the [expletive] is that?" when the New Kids (and anybody else who was up against the Lawrence-bred rapper) were announced as winners, Wahlberg broke into a grin and pointed to the source of the taunts. "He's got it next year," Wahlberg said.

When you're part of a group that sold 70 million albums and is in the midst of a highly successful reunion tour, you can afford to be generous. And in fact, Termanology did nab the award for outstanding hip-hop act, and subsequently performed a rousing set to demonstrate why.

Award ceremonies can bring out the best - and worst - in people. MC and former WBCN program director Oedipus said that by eliminating acceptance speeches there would be no "drunken rambling" or other embarrassments. Nevertheless, "Music Drives Us" founder and automotive mogul Ernie Boch Jr. launched into some expletive-laden rambling about his band, Ernie & the Automatics, not winning outstanding blues act (which went to pianist David Maxwell) before presenting the newly created Humanitarian of the Year award to Chad Stokes Urmston.

Much has been made about the BMAs' move from the Orpheum Theatre to the Roxy (with nominee performances also taking place at Pearl and the Underbar) - and about the ceremony becoming an industry event rather than a public one, but on Sunday, what ultimately stood out was the music. The set lengths - expanded from a one-song-and-out format to roughly 25 minutes per artist - offered a substantive taste of each of the 10 nominees who performed.

Scituate-bred country traditionalists Girls Guns & Glory, which won local act of the year and outstanding Americana act of the year (its second time winning the latter), delivered a rollicking, revved-up set of honky tonk. The eight-piece Afro-Caribbean outfit Zili Misik, named outstanding international music act, was the undeniable life of the party: infectiously upbeat brass, rhythm, and groove. Outstanding rock act winners Wild Light, from New Hampshire, waved an indie-rock banner built on angular chords and strident melodies. The half-empty dance floor and thinning crowd didn't seem to faze them.

Marissa Nadler, who was named outstanding singer-songwriter, was as ghostly a presence as her haunted songs. "I never won anything in my life!," the shocked Needham native blurted out before picking up a 12-string guitar. "Give me a second to tune and I'll play you the saddest song you ever heard." And then she did.

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