From the first notes, it was clear that Rustic Overtones packs a pretty powerful punch. Mostly because there were seven of them packed into all corners of the small stage. They featured a drum player, bass, guitar, keyboardist, and two sax players and a trombone player, sometimes swapping onto a second keyboard. It was a lot to take in. Apparently the sound man thought so too, as the first few songs of the set featured the occasional feedback-ridden bridge section. Immediately, the audience became acquainted with a number of genres featured throughout the band’s career. The set-up implies ska, but many of the songs had funky bass and guitar lines, and vocals that might seem more at home in my teenage cousin’s angsty punk band. Others burst into breakdowns that brought to mind Reel Big Fish, or anyone on the “Never Been Kissed” soundtrack.
For about ten minutes, they put on a show. The songs are catchy, and for brief moments, some of them were funky as hell. They even played a Morphine cover, which perked up a lot of ears in the house. But then there were moments that lost whatever momentum they gained. Pretty much every chorus featured some questionable levels, and aging vocal chords that might as well have been a washed out Louis Armstrong on a bad day. For every two songs that had a section or two that made the audience say, “Alright, I can see why these guys were famous,” there was a ballad-like tune that seemed like it could have been performed by retirement home lounge acts. There was just nothing to them. Sometimes, they seemed well rehearsed. At others, changes were less than precise. They were usually tight and had good energy in songs that lend more to ska, as their set-up would suggest. But sadly, they didn’t stick to this bread-and-butter formula in their show, or seemingly in their career.
Meanwhile, the audience was over-30 and over-served. While they knew the lyrics to many of the songs, the voices became slurred and distracted by slipping tube tops and incoming texts by the fifth song of the set. While this show was entertaining, it is clear why they are playing The Church now. Like Doug Flutie finishing his career with an anti-climactic drop kick PAT while playing back-up for Tom Brady, they’ve gotten old. They only remind us how weird the 90s were, as does cleaning out your childhood room at the end of high school. Frankly, there are local bands that bring more heat for less than the $15 cover. So if you feel like a quick injection of Clinton-era nostalgia, take a peek at these guys when they come back to Boston. Otherwise, you’ll probably have better luck gambling on whoever is playing at Great Scott.