Mighty Mighty Bosstones play up the message inside the melody
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Don’t put it past the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to play a song called “Green Bay, Wisconsin” when they come back to Chicago on Aug. 22. I cautiously remind singer Dicky Barrett about the long-running rivalry between Packers and Bears fans, and the side eye (or more) that the band might receive at the House of Blues, but he knows. He’s from Boston after all.
“Besides,” he says, “ ’Green Bay’ is more of a Midwestern song than it is anything else. A Midwestern American ska story of a young girl and her search to find a life she felt was better than the one she currently has. … We just wanted to make an unapologetic ska song and we’re proud of it.”
The track is a moment of levity on the band’s latest album, “While We’re At It,” released this summer after a seven-year itch to put out new music and coming on the heels of a 20th anniversary tour completed in 2017 to commemorate the nine-piece ensemble’s landmark ska-hardcore crossover release, “Let’s Face It.” That album produced arguably their biggest hit, the rocking big-brass track “The Impression That I Get” in 1997, featuring a bunch of sharp-dressed men in a music video with nonstop rotation.
Though the song remains their most famous, it’s the title track of “Let’s Face It” that has found renewed interest in the past year, going nearly viral on social media as a decree of anti-racism in an ever-polarizing and violent American landscape with the support of lyrics like, “It’s so hard to face / that in this day and age / somebody’s race / could trigger somebody’s rage.”
THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES
With Buster Shuffle, Mustard Plug, DJ Chuck Wren
When: 5:30 p.m. Aug. 22
Where: House Of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
Info: (312) 923-2000; houseofblues.com/chicago
“So many of the issues and some of the topics on ‘Let’s Face It’ are sadly still relevant and still pertinent, and that makes me sad because we’re still talking about it 20 years later, and in some instances things are worse,” says the frontman who’s more or less the mouthpiece for an incredibly diverse and talented lineup that also includes Joe Gittleman, Chris Rhodes, Tim Burton, Joe Sirois, Leon Silva, Ben Carr, Lawrence Katz and John Goetchius.
“We’re in this world where it’s like a whole lot of people don’t want to move forward. A lot of people don’t want to get along, a lot of people don’t want a world that’s free of hate and violence and separation and division. That was all sort of in my brain as we were delivering that album in its entirety night after night, and I know [that experience] worked its way into the new album. It’s a reminder of what we were trying to say 20 years ago, and the hard reality is coming to grips with, ‘S—, nobody was really listening.’ ”
On “While We’re At It,” the song “Wonderful Day for the Race” gives the colloquialism a sociopolitical bent while “Divide” and “Here We Are” speak between the lines. The song “Hugo’s Wife” is also a touchpoint, about band member Gittleman’s grandfather, a screenwriter who was blacklisted during the height of the Cold War fear-mongering.
Barrett’s other gig when he’s not with the Bosstones is working as the announcer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on a nightly basis, where he’s been “proud” to have a boss twho has been vehemently discussing issues from DACA to health care during his regular monologues.
“I feel like I’m on the front lines of people actually saying something and standing up for things they believe in. Jimmy has been unbelievable at it, and I stand beside him and think the world of what he’s doing,” says Barrett, who’s worked on the show since 2004. “It’s the type of people I’ve always wanted to be around … people that have strong opinions and strong beliefs and aren’t afraid to stand up there and say them.”