Boston hardcore heroes Gang Green may be getting up there in years, but the band tore through a nostalgic set at the Paradise last Sunday, confirming their status as one of the most influential hard rock bands of the 80s.
‘We’re going to play old songs, older songs and some very old songs,’ yelled Gang Green’s lead singer Chris Doherty before the start of a show that included classic punk rock anthems like ‘Have Fun’ and the much-covered ‘Alcohol.’
Braintree native Chris Doherty formed Gang Green in 1982. With the exception of Doherty, the line up has constantly changed throughout the years, but since Gang Green’s last album, 1997’s Another Case of Brewtality, Doherty has been playing with Walter Gustafson on drums, Matt Sandonato on bass and Bob Cenci on guitar.
Moreover, Sandonato was celebrating his 35th birthday at the show, and he happened to be celebrating not far from his desk by night he plays in a legendary punk band, but by day he is a Boston University employee.
With great drunk-punk albums like Another Wasted Night (1986), You Got it (1987) and Older…(Budweiser) (1989), Gang Green has earned its place in Boston’s renowned musical history, which also includes big names like Aerosmith, the Pixies and, more recently, the Dropkick Murphys.
Gang Green’s music is a loud blend of punk, hardcore and trash metal the difference being that it is more melodic than punk, more diverse than hardcore and definitely more humorous than trash metal.
A lot of today’s pop-punk bands like Blink 182 or Sum 41 owe a debt to Gang Green, who helped pave the way for this particular kind of energetic music.
‘When we started we were regarded as punk rock idiots,’ Doherty said. ‘Now our kind of music has become acceptable, more mainstream.’
The success of these bands, while Gang Green continues to toil in semi-obscurity, does not seem to bother Doherty.
‘Even though we influenced them, they are making things easier for us now,’ he explained. ‘More people listen and come to see Gang Green again.’
‘I do not mind their success either,’ said drummer Walter Gustafson. ‘They are definitely not sell outs. If I had the chance I would do the same.’
When asked about his career highlights, Doherty immediately replied that, ‘It is all about right here, right now. Every show we play is special for us. We always look at what is happening today and not at the past.’
Speaking of right here, Gang Green’s Boston shows are always home games for the band members. Doherty, Gustafson and Sandonato grew up in and around Boston, so a lot of old friends and family came to see them play.
‘That makes the homecoming so valuable and worthy,’ said Doherty.
Sandonato was hired in 1997 as a personal driver for former BU President Jon Westling, but he soon became a network administrator for several departments. Sandonato not only balances these two gigs, but he also has a third he plays bass for another group as well, a local band called The Chubs.
But being the bass player of Gang Green usually does not interfere with his work. ‘We do weekend shows mainly,’ he said. ‘But sometimes I have to request vacation days, of course, if we do longer tours.’
Most of Sandonato’s colleagues, he said, do not know about his hobby.
‘They are just not into the music, so they would be very surprised if they found out,’ he said.
Playing in two bands does not mean Sandonato could do without his job at BU. ‘We are usually happy if we don’t lose any money,’ he said. ‘But that does not mean we do not have any fun. We are a few good friends having a couple of laughs. It’s like going on a fishing trip with friends or having a poker night with the guys.’
For the approximately 150 die-hards and curious young punks, the Gang Green show was fast and furious. The Paradise, though a bit worn-out (during sound check earlier that day there was water leaking on stage), has reasonable acoustics and a cozy interior that suits these kinds of intimate concerts.
Typical for a Gang Green show, the performance was void of any commercial aspects. With little promotion, the tickets for the show were only $10, and there was not even a table set up to sell Gang Green merchandise. It all gives credibility to the band’s ideology having fun without worrying about things like money.
Gang Green played songs from every album. Opening with ‘Sold Out,’ which Doherty dedicated to his family, the band continued with oldies ‘Skate to Hell,’ ’19th Hole,’ ‘Rabies’ and ‘Just One Bullet.’
The musical assaults that followed, ‘Bartender,’ ‘Last Chance’ and ‘Voices Carry’ (a ‘Til Tuesday cover) dealt with common Gang Green themes, such as drinking, eventful tours and the admiration of the opposite sex. Still, there is always a comic undertone, which makes this seemingly extreme music very accessible.
‘This song I wrote when I was thirteen or fourteen. I still like it because of its sheer simplicity,’ said Doherty when he announced one of Gang Green’s first recorded songs ever, ‘Have Fun’.
This hedonistic anthem sums up the musical qualities that make Gang Green so classic. Manic drumming and guitar playing collide with Doherty’s unique voice as he states the band’s raison d’etre: ‘We just want to have some fun.’
A calmer moment was introduced to the set with the hilarious song ‘The Ballad,’ which was played right before the band launched into a frenetic finale that consisted of a mind-blowing cover of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight for Your Right’ and a typical Gang Green song ‘LDSB’ (Let’s Drink Some Beer).
The climax, however, was reserved for the end as Gang Green delved into their cult song, ‘Alcohol,’ which is Doherty’s ultimate ode to drinking his much-beloved Budweiser.
‘No doubt about it, I can’t live without it,’ the crowd chanted along, causing some hectic scenes in front of the stage, much to the chagrin of the venue’s security.
Gang Green is still out there playing shows and inspiring a new generation of bands. Their punk rock legacy is considerable, and even though the band is now in its 21st year (making them legal to have a precious Bud), they still manage to find the energy to play remarkable concerts and entertain their fans, old and new.