August 5, 2009

Rock Over Boston: O Positive returns!

[Above: Memorabilia from the author's own embarrassing archive.]

O Positive, who are playing a reunion benefit this Friday night, August 7th, at the Paradise, were the biggest band in Boston in an era where that really meant something. It meant headlining two sold-out shows in one night at the Paradise every six weeks or so, while filling the rest of the time playing every other club in the region. Even the ‘burbs supported live original music – can you imagine seeing your Hallelujah the Hillses, your Luxurys, your Taxpayers and what have yous regularly headlining bars in Billerica or Beverly? Edible Rex and Grovers were there for your local rocking needs.

They packed ‘em in at every show then (as they will Friday – get your tix now!) thanks to the local ubiquity of their best-remembered tracks from the pair of EPs that were their first releases: “With You” with its complex drum patterns and “smoke a cigarette/think it’ll get you through it” refrain from 1985’s Only Breathing (on the venerable Throbbing Lobster label), and “Talk About Love” and its delay-effected lead guitars over beds of urgently strummed acoustic guitars from 1987‘s Cloud Factory (Link) both got heavy airplay on WFNX and the recently (semi-) departed WBCN (these EPs were later collected on one CD on Link, and you should be able to find that or the original vinyl pressings fairly easily locally, or for a surprising $100 at an Ebay retailer).

The success of those EPs on the national college radio charts (not to mention the “With You" video’s plays on MTV) made O Positive, along with contemporaries Tribe and Big Dipper, part of a run of Boston bands signed by major labels at just about the same (and, apparently, wrong) time. Their effort for Epic, 1990’s Toyboattoyboattoyboat, may have some production values that seem questionable to today’s ears (though I’d still take all of them over the plague of Auto-Tune), but the songs themselves still hold up well.

The self-released Home Sweet Head (Smashing Records, 1993) rounded out their run and renounced Toyboat’s production trickery in favor of a stripped down sound that was more like the band sounded on stage. In retrospect, though, it almost seems if there was a bow to the generational shift happening at that time, and they called it quits the following year.

I was a huge fan and saw them dozens of times. So not only is this Friday’s show incredibly exciting, but its also a reminder of just how much has changed in the almost 22 years since I first saw them In O+’s time, we mainly relied on a few excellent local rock zines – the late great Boston Rock, The Beat, the still-going-strong Noise, plus great local rock coverage in both daily papers as well as the Phoenix. And the postcards - OH! the postcards. Amassing a snail mailing list and printing and cutting and posting postcards was a staple/bane of rock band life. The internerds and whatnots have made it so much easier for more bands to spread the word so much more easily than back then, but the info glut makes it tougher for those bands to break through the noise to a wider committed audience.

Dave Herlihy, O Positive’s lead vocalist and guitarist, agrees: “you still have to have a good idea,” he says. Still, “audiences are so fragmented, you wonder if when bands like U2 retire if places like Great Woods [that is, the Comcast Center in Mansfield] will be like the [Roman] Coliseum.”

It already seems trite to belabor the point, but it makes it no less true that, as Herlihy says, “people can do all kinds of things that don’t involve going to a club.” Ironically, members of O Positive contemporaries Tribe may be partially to blame, as they are the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I mentioned to Herlihy that I just learned that the recently reissued Big Dipper, will be on Rock Band 2, he said, “I should call those guys.”

As with the handful of previous reunions the band has done, the occasion for this is a benefit, this time for band friend, early band house neighbor, and guitarist Al Pettiti’s sister-in-law, Paula Persechini-Petitti, received a serious brain injury in a car accident in June and faces a long and difficult rehabilitation. Paula is the director of the Black River Project, an organization that organizes, collects, and distributes medicines and medical supplies and equipment to impoverished communities around the world. I hope she gets the chance to get back to that amazing work soon.

In the meantime, we can all help with the staggering costs associated by buying a ticket and buying the live recording that will be made available after the show (MP3, Flac, CD) or just by making a donation.

Anyway, if Herlihy manages to get O Positive into the next version of Rock Band, that may actually make me buy one, until then, we have another chance to hear these songs as nature intended: by the band, at the Paradise, as always.

-Michael Piantigini

O Positive - "With You" - Only Breathing
O Positive - "Talk About Love" - Cloud Factory

O Positive: Internerds | Facebook | Tickets
Dave Herlihy: Internerds
Paula Persechini-Petitti: Internerds | Twitter | Blogspot
Black River Project: Internerds
Tribe: Internerds | Myspace | Facebook
Big Dipper: Myspace | on Merge


Anonymous said...

Awesome piece...looking forward to the show tonight!

bro said...