Willie Alexander celebrates 80 years at Gloucester’s new venue, The Cut
James Sullivan, Boston Globe
January 14, 2024
Seminal Boston rocker Willie Alexander onstage with Mission of Burma during Alexander's 80th birthday celebration on opening night at The Cut.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
GLOUCESTER — If there’s a patron saint of Boston’s fabled live music scene, it’s Willie Alexander. Way back in the 1960s, he helped open the Boston Tea Party, the South End ballroom that hosted all those classic counterculture bands. In the mid-’70s, he put the Rat on the map at the dawn of the punk movement. And he was on hand when WBCN hosted its farewell party at the Paradise in 2009.
Over the long course of a guest-laden Saturday night at The Cut, the area’s newest music venue in Gloucester, many of the musicians who did their own part to establish one of the country’s most fertile music scenes paid tribute to Alexander. His 80th birthday coincided with the club’s grand opening.
With his lithe build and his wayward rooster comb of white hair, the longtime Gloucester resident seemed prepared for another 20 years onstage. Local poet Jim Dunn joked that he would have to get up in the morning and begin working on a new poem for the guest of honor’s 90th.
Seminal Boston rocker Willie "Loco" Alexander reacts as Oedipus speaks during Alexander's 80th birthday celebration on opening night at The Cut. JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
But true to form, when Alexander first took the stage — following opening remarks by longtime WBCN program director Oedipus and tributes from the Richie Parsons Band and Classic Ruins — he didn’t play “Mass. Ave.” or “At the Rat,” the songs that gave Boston its own punk identity. Instead, he brought on the Persistence of Memory Orchestra, his chaotic free jazz project from the 1990s. They don’t call him “Loco” for nothing.
It may not have been what the capacity crowd (nearly 500) expected, but Alexander’s thinking was in tune. For New England rock ‘n’ roll fans, memories of their nights out during Boston’s wild and woolly heyday in the clubs are tenacious. The conga line of performers at The Cut’s opening night — grayer and soberer, but no less eager — snapped those days back to life.
The Neighborhoods, the first band to win the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble back in 1979, brought out their original lineup. Alexander “was a gateway drug for this kid from the suburbs,” said frontman David Minehan, as rambunctious as ever in a skinny plaid suit. When Alexander came onstage to join the band, Minehan planted a big smooch on his cheek and hollered, “It’s all your fault!”
The Real Kids’ John Felice with drummer David Robinson (the Cars, Modern Lovers), played “Roadrunner,” the unofficial rock song of Massachusetts written by Felice’s Natick schoolmate, Jonathan Richman. The reunited Reddy Teddy— the band that Playboy magazine once called “possibly the most exciting new American band” — played “Moron Rock,” a Rat favorite from their debut album.
Seminal Boston rocker Willie Alexander plays during an 80th birthday celebration on opening night at The Cut, a new live-music venue in Gloucester, on Jan. 13.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
Mission of Burma teamed with Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham, a longtime Gloucester resident, as “Mission of Burnham.” Rick Berlin played a brief solo set of original songs on Alexander’s battered, sticker-covered keyboard.
Midway through the show Alexander’s Boom Boom Band, his sidekicks from the Rat years, including the crunchy guitarist Billy Loosigian, backed a succession of singers. Jon Macey of Fox Pass — another 1970s band from Boston that should have had better luck outside the market — animated Alexander’s bluesy, beatnik-y “Looking Like a Bimbo,” and the birthday boy wrapped up the mini set with “Rock & Roll ‘78.”
Later, as the evening wound down, a house band led by musician and studio owner Tony Goddess (who has been instrumental in designing The Cut’s excellent sound system) played a few of Alexander’s favorites. Jenny Dee commanded the room with her soaring vocals on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and blues aficionado Dave Sag put a bow on the affair with yet another well-chosen song: “Such a Night.”
The crowd on Jan. 13 for the opening night of The Cut, the area's newest music venue, located in Gloucester. JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
Written by James Sullivan who is a Globe correspondent.