were one of the great enigmas in Boston's fertile 1980s club scene. During these years, one did not have to look far for a bill that might include any combination of the roots-rocking Del Fuegos, the Nuggets garage rock-worshipping Lyres, and the drunken hardcore punk slamming of Gang Green.
were yet another item altogether; a decidedly collegiate group of clean-cut, straight-faced brooding guys who played evocative and melancholy music that encompassed the pre-psychedelic1960s-era folk-rock of the Seekers, Baroque pop of the Left Banke and the Zombies, and the bluesy moods of the early Rolling Stones and Them.
Their closest contemporary American cousins were bands like the Feelies
, Dream Syndicate, and the band they often shared a national bill with, early R.E.M. They also had a kinship with New Zealand pop outfits like the Clean and even British groups like Echo and the Bunnymen -- though without the high level of romantic drama of the latter; the drama of the Neats
was manifested in a more introspective and subdued manner. Like those bands, on their first EP, The Monkey's Head in the Corner of the Room (1982), and debut LP, Neats
(1983), the Neats
favored clean guitar swaths, ebbing and flowing washes of strummed rhythms, and single-note melody lines over traditional improvised soloing. Always there was a melancholy sort of punk rock edge shadowing the music, a feel and sound that somehow links to a Boston tradition that can be traced through such bands as Mission of Burma to Galaxy 500 and beyond.
And then...the Neats
changed. Dramatically. First they disappeared for about four years and then came roaring back with Crash at Crush
(1987), which polarized their audience. Those audience members who first witnessed the band's transformation before the release of the album and came expecting to see the college boys with neatly cropped short hair and button-down shirts strumming dark minor-key chords through Fender Twin amps, were instead surprised -- if not shocked -- to find a group of greasy long-haired dudes in torn jeans and cowboy hats digging into chunky power chords with cranked Marshall amps churning out a form of 1970s blooze-rock like a modern-day Bad Company or Allman Brothers. In a way, they presaged similar acts like Black Crowes and a number of so-called grunge bands.
Formed in 1979, the band -- Eric Martin
(guitar/vocals), Phil Caruso
(guitar), Terry Hanley
(drums), and Jerry Channell (bass) -- set up house in the student-heavy Boston neighborhood of Allston. They created a club-like atmosphere in the basement of the white-clapboard house and were known for hosting parties that Boston legend musician/producer/studio-owner Joe Harvard notes "featured sets by the hosts as well as extensive jamming. These parties were as good -- if not better -- than most club shows at the time," Harvard recalled on his www.rockinboston.com website, "Heck, the basement was almost as big as (Boston club) Cantones (and better lit!), and there were no boxers from Southie to harass you at the door like there were over at the Rat."
This house burned down, but the Neats
soldiered on, putting out the single "6" on the Propeller label. This was followed by the Monkey's Head EP and self-titled LP for the respected Boston indie Ace of Hearts, which also put out records by legendary Boston bands Mission of Burma and the Lyres. Though they continued to play for a couple of years after the LP release, the Neats
remained quiet on the recording front. Rumored deals with various indies and majors alike did not come to fruition. The original bassist Channell was replaced first by Jay Parnham of the Flies, and then David Lee. Live, the group was augmented by touring guitarist and roadie Dave Fredette of Boston's Oysters. "It was a drag having a guitar roadie that could play better than both of us," quipped Martin in an interview with Boston Rock at the time. "So we had to do something with him."
Meanwhile, the band signed with Twin/Tone-affiliated Coyote Records. With their new look and sound, the band released Crash at Crush
, which produced an achingly beautiful single, "Angel." The Neats
followed the album up with Blues End Blue
(1989) for Twin/Tone, which was their final record. Martin still plays around Boston with his group the Illyrians. Hanley died in a fall from a balcony in Colorado on October 5, 1999.