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Crock rock
Robby Roadsteamer gets his ya-yas out
Related Links

Robby Roadsteamer's official Web site

Matt Ashare reviews Robby Roadsteamer at 27th annual Rock N Roll Rumble.

Mike Miliard reviews Robby Roadsteamer's Okay Computers.

One way to tell whether success has gone to a man’s head, especially if that man is a rock star, is to take note of any changes in his appearance. Since his purple headband and handlebar moustache were splashed on the cover of the Phoenix a year ago, Robby Roadsteamer has found success. He and his band made it to the Rumble final back in April, and he was invited to play a handful of Warped Tour dates later this month. More recently, he auditioned for a spot on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He’s even moved out of his parents’ house and gotten his own place in Allston. And after years of slogging it out amid video games and laser tag at Somerville’s Good Time Emporium, Roadsteamer will celebrate the release of his third album, The Heart of a Rhino (Yellow Trout), this Saturday at a real rock club, the Paradise.

When I meet him at the Middle East, he charges through the door, band mates and handlers in tow, and settles into a booth with focused intensity. He looks powerful, but he looks different. The headband and the handlebar moustache are still there. So is the shock of strangely wig-like hair. But now his arms and his torso are spangled with tattoos. On his right pec, the cloaked emperor from Star Wars holds a hot dog with all the fixin’s in one hand while using the other to blast Bloom County’s Bill the Cat with blue lightning bolts. On his left is a self-portrait of Robby as a centaur, his bottom half striped like a zebra. On his right deltoid, the orange T. Rex from that mini golf course on Route 1 in Saugus fights Jesus, who’s delivering a flying kick. On his left, "Bob" from the Church of the SubGenius kills time by plunging a sword into a clock. On his right forearm is a quote — "In the darkness I hear somebody call my name" — from Springsteen’s "Streets of Fire." On his left is Carlton Fisk from Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. When Roadsteamer flexes his muscle, Fisk waves the ball fair.

The tattoos appeared not too long ago over about four months of frenzied inking. But to anyone who thinks they were done on some power-drunk bender, and simply to enhance his image as the apotheosis of Boston rock, scourge to milquetoast indie kids and retro trendsters, Roadsteamer has this to say: "I will fight anyone to the death who thinks my success has gone to my head. I’ll rip out their throat and wear it as a necklace."

Like last year’s Okay Computer (Yellow Trout), The Heart of a Rhino was recorded with the help of guys like Waltham bassist Peet Golan, Dave Pino (formerly of Waltham and Damone), Ken Susi from Unearth, and Derek Kerswill, late of Shadows Fall, now with Seemless. But those dudes have all gone off to do their own thing, leaving Robby with a core band of keyboardist Nick D’Amico, guitarists Pete Tentindo and Brian James, bass player "Tooth," and drummer Dan Liacos. They’re the ones who’ve joined him at the Middle East. Smooth-talking manager Chris Coxen is there too, and so is sometime stand-up comedian Aaron "King Wizard," who plays a little tambourine but mostly yells about not being allowed to play guitar anymore.

This is the Roadsteamer A-team — the crew Robby dreamed of assembling. "We’ve dominated the Boston music scene like none other. People are tired of uptight kids in turtlenecks giving them the dime-a-dozen flavor-of-the-month retro-’80s shit." In other words, he’s ready to assert the supremacy of cock rock. But there’s a problem. There are haters. There are scenesters and tastemakers who just don’t get Robby Roadsteamer. They don’t like him or his shtick. Indeed, for several years he and his bands weren’t permitted to enter the Rumble, which defined them as a "comedy act."

"I don’t understand why they keep calling us a comedy act," he says, exasperated. "The Dresden Dolls? You don’t think that’s fucking comedy? A girl goes up there night after night as a mime? If you saw that in Harvard Square, you’d be throwing pennies at her and asking her to hike up her skirt for a dollar! They throw that up on stage and all of a sudden that’s the best thing we got? And I’m a fucking comedy act? We’re not fucking comedy!"

This year, Roadsteamer’s "heavy-metal comedy act" made it to the final, where they lost to Reverend Glasseye’s vaudeville/gypsy/madrigal/klezmer/Southern Gothic/sea-chantey mélange. "We shoulda come in first, but they held us down and fucked us in the finals," Robby says, still seething. "We lost to a fucking cabaret act!" In a video that was recorded immediately after the stinging loss and is included on Rhino’s enhanced DVD, he phrases it better: "I’d like to tell you that Led Zeppelin re-formed and beat us in the finals. But instead we lost to a little box of tissue paper with an ugly-ass moustache playing funeral music for old people."

At this point, Roadsteamer has sucked down a Red Bull on the rocks in barely a minute. He’s mad. "You know why we came in second? It’s because we know how to have fun on stage. You go to any other city in the country and you see bands that know how to have fun. But you come here . . . We’re gonna show them that Boston knows how to have fun. Like the Cars, and fucking Aerosmith! We wanna give them rock and roll for once. What’s the knock on us? That people laugh a little bit? They call Kiss comedy and people still go to their shows. But we’ve gotta impress John and the Five Weblogs."

So Roadsteamer isn’t the most politic rocker on the scene. Another knock on him is that his act is a little sexist or, at the very least, chauvinist. Rhino’s opening song — and the one they’ve filmed a video for that’s available at www.roadsteamer.com — starts with him talk-whispering in his best Springsteen: "This song is about girls, and their dreams. Girls are like beautiful butterflies, floating through life. One week they wanna be a photographer. Next week they wanna be an artist. But there’s one thing we can do to clip the wings of those dreams . . . this song is called ‘I Put a Baby in You.’ "

After the guitars pump and the drums crash and the piano crescendos, Roadsteamer howls at his girl: "Wash the baby!/Clean the baby!/I’m gonna go play Keno." Not every woman is charmed by such sentiments. Roadsteamer doesn’t care. "It’s not about ruining their dreams. It’s about giving them direction. Girls, when they’re young, they don’t know what they wanna do with their life. They wanna take black-and-white photos of cats. They wanna be Tori Amos, laying down the college poetry. You put a baby in them and they know what to do. They got motivation."

Coxen also thinks the song’s been misinterpreted. "We’ve gotten letters saying ‘I Put a Baby in You’ is a great song to make out to. Good rubbing and petting music."

"Finish Her Off with Sex Moves" — in which a paramour is described as "a Hot Pocket filled with sexy meat" — may not go over too well with feminists either. And "The Hand I Beat Dogs With" could have PETA on Roadsteamer’s tail.

Again, no apologies from the crew. "There will always be backlash," Coxen says. He believes Heart of a Rhino is pure genius, even if the major-label swells haven’t yet come calling. (Yellow Trout is Roadsteamer’s own imprint.) And of the release party this Saturday Coxen says, "It’s gonna be like Gordon Lightfoot meets Stryper. If they had a baby, it would be this show. And all those chumps and thumbsuckers who didn’t give us a label are gonna be miles away, watching us with binoculars."

Robby Roadsteamer + the Ducky Boys + Far from Finished | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | August 6 | 617.228.6000

Issue Date: August 5 - 11, 2005
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