Words and photos by Scott Murry
Music has a powerful effect on the human spirit—it’s a part of life that brings it all together. It can unite disconnected individuals from all over the world, and break down differences. For Ben Wyatt, played by Adam Scott, on the series Parks and Rec, music allows him to chill out and be himself. Going to work, his colleagues typically see an uptight accountant—but when he wore a tshirt of his favorite college-years band, Letters To Cleo, he relaxed and came ALIVE. The freedom of their music unlocked his inner-Wyatt.
Spreading like wildfire at the taper of the riot grrrl movement of the early 90s, Letters To Cleo of Boston, MA held their own as a prototypical pop-angst band. They had a mish-mashed collection of flannel and scraggly hair going on, and their approachably grungy vibe made them easy to fall for. With Kay Hanley leading the group on sugar-high vocals, their catalog of alt. college-rock connected with many more than just Ben Wyatt. After they split in 2000, it seemed like they would remain a memory of the past. Hanley went on to record songs for kid’s shows, while other band members tried new projects, or opened pizza trucks. They were subjugated to scratchy cd jewel cases underneath car seats, just a good memory.
Or so it seemed. Earlier this year, the band reunited and began hinting on social media at new material and ive gigs. Their first recorded material in 17 years Back To Nebraska appeared this Fall and a string of tour dates spread the band across the country. The final night of the reunion tour was on their home turf of Boston (well, Cambridge) at the Sinclair with a sold-out soirée. They’d sold out the night before in Boston as well, but this one also raised funds for Girls Rock Boston, an organization that gets young girls to create and collaborate on music. (Basically a riot grrrl summer camp for a new generation. Are they allowed to use cuss words?)
Coming to the stage, they began with a healthy mix of tracks from 1993’s Aurora Gory Alice and 1997’s Go to ample smiles. Hanley’s bleach blond hair waved in lightly teased bundles to catch the light with each shake. Glancing around at the mix of guys and girls looking enamored, it’s fair to say that their crushes for the band live on. Her voice proved to be just as alive, with her pitch crisp and right in place. Drummer Stacy Jones played heavy on his kit with extra fills, reminiscent of an early Dave Grohl the way he was hammering. Michael Eisenstein was jumping all over stage during lead guitar riffs. The whole band was so energized, you’d be surprised that this was their final tour night and not the first.
Performing one of their newest singles “Four Leaf Clover,” it fit right into place with their well-known sound. Similar to where Go left off and their appearance on 10 Thing I Hate About You with “I Want You To Want Me,” the lyrics erased angsty tones in favor of positive passion for life. “You can’t have enough love in life, scoop it up and hold on tight. Remain afraid, make mistakes, and love, love, love, love anyway.” It appears that Hanley’s kid-song writing skills are coming through. So the evening may have been a bit meta for fans of Parks and Rec reliving their college days and channeling Ben Wyatt, but the bouncy pop of Letters To Cleo remains fully intact.
The City Rivals opened up, which was formed a couple of years ago by guitarist Greg McKenna. While crooning over his 50s rock and roll mic, lead singer Michael Coen appeared somewhat timid, admitting, “It’s a treat to play in front of a crowd. We don’t always do this.” He held the stage as though it wasn’t his first time though, especially with a few cracks at McKenna, “playing next with some other band.”