- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2001

Through more than a dozen years together and countless miles of touring, the eight-strong Mighty Mighty Bosstones has demonstrated an enviable cohesion.

"We've built the band around friendship," says Joe Gittleman, the Boston ska-punk band's bass player.

"It was never about the most-talented guy," Mr. Gittleman says during a sound check recently in Milwaukee as the band prepared to launch its "Hometown Throwdown 2001" tour. "It was about characters and personalities, and people we wanted to hang out with. The business of it was, and continues to be, secondary to the enjoyment.

"If we were looking for the best singer in the world, I don't think Dicky [Barrett] would be in the band," Mr. Gittleman says. "And if he was looking for the best bass player, I wouldn't have been in his band.

"We were friends. All we were trying to do was to get into shows for free, or get into the shows that we were too young to get into, when we started. And one thing led to another."

Mr. Barrett whose gravely voice, as much as the band's incessant touring, recalls the Bosstones' bulldog mascot elaborates on the band's mission and its latest album, "Pay Attention."

"We're constantly trying to skin a cat, and skin the same cat, but we're trying to find various ways to do it," he says during the sound check. "We don't want to make the same album over and over again. We're trying to create a different product every time.

"How it turns out, I always find that out at the end."

To support the album, released in 2000, the Bosstones have taken a hometown tradition on the road.

"In San Diego, it's not really the essence of the tour, because we're only doing one show that we added because we like San Diego," Mr. Barrett says. "In [some] other cities we're doing multiple shows. That was the idea. Instead of hitting the towns for one night, we wanted to be different.

"It's based on something we do in Boston at Christmastime, which we've being doing for seven years, called the 'Hometown Throwdown.' We just wanted to take that out on the road."

• • •

Among the tracks on "Pay Attention" is the haunting, and timely, "High School Dance." The song, a look at settling scores that is based on the Columbine, Colo., shootings, proved to be prophetic, too.

"Unbelievable I can't even believe it," Mr. Barrett says of the recent Santana High School shootings in San Diego.

"We wrote [the song] directly after the Columbine incident. I think it may be the [album's] most dramatic song. It has a lot to do with the title of the album, this problem with parents not properly paying attention to their kids, and that's kind of what you end up with."

Mr. Gittleman says: "The Columbine song was something that Dicky was working on for a while; it bothered him."

The band's previous album, the platinum "Let's Face It," likewise decried violence and ignorance, and Bosstones shows for years have included booths set up by the Anti-Racist Action Group. The band also has performed benefit shows for battered women's shelters.

Another song on "Pay Attention" "Riot on Broad Street" looks at violence from a historical perspective.

"I actually candy-coated the issue," says Mr. Barrett, the band's lyricist. "It was a pretty violent, brutal riot, a turn-of-the-century riot that took place between a Protestant fire department in Boston and an Irish funeral. It ended up erupting into a complete melee.

"It was a very violent, violent night in Boston. I knew it as a story my father would tell me when I was a kid. But then, as I have a huge interest in history and the history of Boston, I kind of researched it, and it was true."

The fast-paced song, delivered with Irish-folk flair, is among the tracks on "Pay Attention" that find the Bosstones exploring new terrain. Another is "Bad News and Bad Breaks," which Mr. Gittleman describes as "an AM-radio drive time, old kind of song, more like back-rack '70s horn pop."

But there's still a touch or more of ska.

"I love ska music," the bass player says. "It certainly doesn't bother me [to be called a ska band]. Ska is an influence of ours like punk rock is. It's an accurate description of one of the hundreds of little pieces that make up the Bosstones."

The completion of "Pay Attention," meanwhile, saw the departure of longtime guitarist Nate Albert.

"Nate couldn't tour with us anymore because his mother's very sick," Mr. Barrett says. "He was always living in fear that she'd pass away and he'd be on the road… . I think Nate's pretty much hung it up for the Bosstones."

The band's history, adds Mr. Gittleman, has been "a string of events that's made us keep wanting to do it. And that's the whole key, is wanting to do it."

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