|Watts is (from left) drummer John Lynch, guitarists John Blout and Dan Kopko, and bassist Craig LaPointe. The classic rock-sounding band is back together after calling it quits in the ’90s. (Sooz)|
After years away, Watts plugs back in
Like trends and tastes, good bands come and go. But for a cool band to come back — reconfigured, revamped, and re-amped — and then prove to be arguably even better than the first time around? That’s a rarity indeed.
Take Watts, a unit named for both power and electricity (or, as some have suggested, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and his back-to-basics approach). During what may as well have been another musical lifetime of the mid-’90s, a different version of the group was invited to make a demo for Hollywood Records. The label ultimately passed on signing the foursome, but Watts released the fruits of those songwriting sessions as “Flash!,’’ a nifty album of ’70s-esque power-pop that got favorable reviews by just about everyone who heard it.
Then, as so often happens, recalls guitarist-singer John Blout, “the band naturally ran its course. People were going to school, I had a more serious job, and we just broke it up and went our separate ways.’’
But Blout and Watts singer-guitarist Dan Kopko, who had been friends and musical collaborators since they were 15 years old growing up in Stoneham and Haverhill, respectively, never stopped writing. One day out of the blue, Watts was invited to play a private party. “When we got the call to do that show,’’ Blout recalls over afternoon beers at a Boston watering hole, “we already had a bunch of new songs ready to go.’’
Thus a revitalized version of Watts was born — this time with Neighborhoods drummer John Lynch (who also splits his time behind the skins with the Dirty Truckers) and another of Blout’s childhood friends, Craig LaPointe, on bass. What was intended as a one-off gig has turned into an ongoing enterprise, with another, even harder-rocking album (2007’s “One Below the All-Time Low’’) under its belt, gigs opening for Joe Perry, and another record on the way this fall.
Tomorrow night, Watts headlines a bill with local glam-rockers Sidewalk Driver at the Rosebud Bar & Grill (a venue that, like Watts, has enjoyed something of a second life as a live music entity). All of this activity has left Blout a bit surprised. “Yeah, we weren’t planning on it at all,’’ he says. “But we’ve been having a good time doing it, and it seems to work.’’
“Seems to work’’ is a vast understatement. The band’s rambunctious yet tightly focused onstage energy, tough-as-nails songs that make you feel as much as they say, and a twin electric guitar attack that borders on the vicious all add up to Watts being one of the most dependably raucous live acts around town.
“We’re very much into the classic rock stuff,’’ Blout says, pointing to the bands he grew up on — Cheap Trick, the Kinks, the Beatles, and many others. “We try to do our own thing, but obviously we’re quite well aware of where we’ve lifted things from. I think it’s a good tradition. Some people may say, ‘Oh, this new band sounds too much like the Stones,’ and I say give me a hundred more bands that sound like that or AC/DC — I’d love to hear it! If it’s done right, you just can’t lose.’’
“The main focus is to give these young artists a place to come and showcase original music, to get their fans in, and to give them an audience,’’ says the Common Ground’s general manager, Curtis Williams. “Live music is something we want to bring back to this area. It’s gotten away from that over the last couple of years, but it’s one of those things where we’re ready to jump in, get the ball rolling, and see this thing happen.’’
Word-of-mouth buzz, Williams says, has already sparked interest from the local music community. “There will be a slight audition process, but the goal is not to eliminate people — the goal is to include people,’’ he says. “We do want to make sure that it’s right for the space, but all genres are definitely welcome — folk, punk, singer-songwriter. We’re definitely trying to keep an open mind.’’
If the two-month trial run at 83 Harvard Ave. goes well, the series will likely continue through the fall. Although Williams has no illusions about the Common Ground’s ability to cut into the customer share of established neighborhood live music clubs such as Harpers Ferry, Great Scott, O’Brien’s, or the Paradise, Williams claims he’s confident it can be a viable alternative.
“We’re not going to overtake [those places], obviously,’’ he acknowledges. “But we’re excited about our ability to put out great food and drink, so it’s an opportunity for us to steer our image in a different direction and get away from being just a bar to being more multidimensional.’’
In fact, the Common Ground’s new music series marks a return to the bar’s live roots. Back in the ’90s, the venue was instrumental in helping to launch the career of the Push Stars, one of Boston’s bigger acts, who at one time were signed to Capitol Records.
Jonathan Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.