Spotted among a sizable crowd outside the Paradise on Saturday June 23: a stone-faced Secret Service agent, an A&R man for Yellow Trout Records beating the bushes for the next big thing, and a redneck in a green trucker cap singing pro-Bush songs and warning concertgoers that they risk eternal perdition should they set foot in the club. All of these are actors, hired by Robby Roadsteamer for the release party for his band’s fourth album, I’ll Be at Your Funeral (Yellow Trout).
VIDEO: Episode Ten of Robby Roadsteamer's "Shitcom"
As it happened, the night was just as notable for the perverse diversity of the bill: the power-pop SnowLeopards, the visceral-ethereal Fluttr Effect, space-time-continuum-skipping-post-punk-hip-hoppers the Campaign for Real-Time, and Roadsteamer’s comedy-metal rowdies. Danvers dudes in backwards baseball caps stood slack-jawed as Fluttr Effect rocked hard with chugging cello and MIDI marimba. Allston hipsters chortled along with everyone else as Roadsteamer manager Chris Coxen took the stage to introduce Robby’s band — noting that they’d passed up opportunities to open for Mel Tormé on his “Dangerous Rhythms Tour” and a chance to play “the Oatmeal Fest out in Ashburnham” to be there. It was a gathering of the Boston music tribes. And it was just the way Robby Roadsteamer envisioned it.
When he emerged six years ago as lead singer of the Sweatpant Boners — a joky but potent metal band who featured, at various times, members of Killswitch Engage, Seemless, Unearth, and Damone — Robby played the court jester to the hilt. From his home in Danvers, he cast a cold eye on the cliquishness and petty infighting of the Boston music scene.
“At first he was a douchebag,” says Roadsteamer (a/k/a Rob Potylo) of the character he created. “He hated the scene. He was the critic we always see on message boards: any band that does something, it’s ‘Aw, they’re trying too hard. They suck!’ ”
But three years ago, Roadsteamer moved to Allston, and that gave him a new perspective. “It’s so different being on the North Shore and watching the scene from the outside instead of being in one.” As he got to know the various players, he realized something: “I wanted to evolve the character. The problem was, I’d done it so good, nobody knew me.”
After the release of his debut, Okay Computer (2004), he rattled off two more full-lengths, The Heart of a Rhino (2005) and Postcards from theDen of Failure (2006). Then, six years into a musical career many had written off as a joke, Roadsteamer scored a subsidiary deal with Universal. Suddenly, his mind raced. Might the daytimes spent selling Red Sox souvenirs be over? “I thought this was it. You project. You get excited. Retail job at Fenway? That ain’t gonna matter six months from now?” But then, as quickly as it appeared, the deal fell through. “Out of that disappointment sprang this album.”
That major-label rejection may have been a blessing in disguise. I’ll Be at Your Funeral hews to the lyrical tropes of past Roadsteamer opuses: video games, the ’80s, the cheesy detritus of a suburban existence, all of it dolloped with good-natured scatology. But this one’s also different. The name on the front of the CD is no longer Robby Roadsteamer. It’s simply Roadsteamer, a now democratized line-up with equal input from keyboardist Nick D’Amico, guitarist Pete Tentindo, bassist Jay Cornwell, and drummer Ray Burgett. (All have adopted the Roadsteamer surname.) “I finally found a group of guys that I love. I was stuck with session guys that barely got the idea, laid down the songs, and went away. There was never time to form a relationship and see what each person could do.”
D’Amico agrees: “It finally is a band. We’ve got it to the point where we all do vocals — Pete’s even got his own song. It’s an album. Before it was just songs for an album.”
In fact, it’s a concept album, loosely unified by the idea that dinosaurs never became extinct but instead quietly evolved, eventually returning to lay waste to the North Shore. Nestled among the narrative lie some of Roadsteamer’s better songs. “A Lifetime in a Dream” starts with vocoder and synth washes before erupting into a straight-on power ballad. “Flip the Coin of Love” dabbles with skittering synth and ska horns. The inspirational anthem “The North Shore Is Where You’re Going To Soar” is as tasty as eating meatloaf while listening to Meatloaf at the Hilltop Steakhouse. And in “X-Mas in Allston,” Boston may have discovered its answer to the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.”
The disc finds Roadsteamer playing nice with the SnowLeopards’ Heidi Lee Saperstein on “I Hope You Get Ugly in Heaven.” And on his long-running YouTube “shitcom,” he and Saperstein can be seen playing Kaboom! on Atari. You can also watch him get chewed out by Holly Brewer from Humanwine for wanting to “get with” her, and see him plead with Reverend Glasseye — whose old-time music the old Roadsteamer disparaged as “funeral music for old people”— to stay in town instead of moving to Austin.