Time will also tell if Boys Like Girls, who easily took the Best New Band category, are the next major Boston band, or just this year’s Click Five. In any case the photogenic quartet leapfrogged over everyone slogging on the club circuit to build a national following through MySpace and a major-label deal. So far they look like the perfect band for those who outgrew Panic! At the Disco after the Dolls tour.
For more proof that things haven’t changed much this year, head to the local punk category, topped by a band who’ve been around even longer than the Dropkick Murphys. With 15-plus years under their belts, the Unseen are the longest-lived winners in the batch. Their punk-with-hooks mix sounds current today; and the Dropkicks have helped their career resurge by having them open some shows. And they can take satisfaction in finishing three notches above Darkbuster, authors of the song “I Hate the Unseen.” Other categories evince an abiding love for tried-and-true sounds, whether it’s old-school, socially conscious rap (7L & Esoteric), or doomy punk-metal (Killswitch Engage). Even the ascent of the Boston Afrobeat Society is a throwback of sorts, recalling the days when the likes of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Adé, and Ebenezer Obey would play Boston on a regular basis.
If the upper echelons of Boston rock are pretty much secure, there’s been a bit of action on the lower levels. And glancing over the rest of the results, we find a pretty wild mix of local music eras and characters. Indeed, the winners represent a good three decades of local rock, from stalwarts Mission of Burma (who came in third as Best Act) to Best Live Act winner Bang Camaro, who formed only last year. The latter band hit on an idea that couldn’t really miss — paying homage to the celestial harmonies of ’80s hair-metal by hiring enough singers (20) to do it all live. They join the likes of the Upper Crust and Waltham as great high-concept bands that someone would’ve had to make up if they didn’t already exist. Theatrical rock looks to be having a renaissance lately, to judge from Bang Camaro’s win and runners-up the Campaign for Real Time, UV Protection, and of course, the Dresden Dolls.
Also good to see a mix of strong voices and personalities represented in the female vocalist category, from the World’s Greatest Sinners’ brassy Jordan Valentine to the always intriguing Monique Ortiz — not a shrinking violet in the batch (and then, of course, there’s winner Amanda Palmer). Or consider the motley crew that placed as Best Male Vocalist, from flamboyant types Ad Frank and the Rudds’ John Powhida, to the old-school tough guy Mac McColgan (the former Dropkick Murphy now fronting the Street Dogs). Pure pop ultimately won the day with Bon Savants singer Thom Moran taking the prize, representing a band that has three singers and uses them all.
I have to object just a little to a pair of soul acts acing the best blues category: those are two very different genres, and please don’t tell us that all black music sounds alike. That said, the “Northern soul” trend has been big fun so far, giving us vinyl lovers a chance to hear buried ’60s treasures instead of electro-beats when we hear a DJ. Both the World’s Greatest Sinners and Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s True Loves, who finish close to each other with the Sinners leading, are fronted by record nuts who take the soul vinyl they love as a something to absorb into their own performing style.