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Clubland: Back at you, Dancing Larry

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  • Larry Howes, aka Dancing Larry, moves to the music at a rock show, one of many he has attended in the Valley over past decades. On Saturday, area bands will show their support for Howes, who last fall suffered neurological and optic nerve damage, in a benefit concert dubbed Larrypalooza.<br/>PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRIS ARCHAMBEAU

If Larry Howes is at a rock show that moves him, he does not stand still. The fully bald 58-year-old swivels and vibrates, shimmying with shamanic intensity, and has done so for decades — he is the Valley’s one and only Dancing Larry, and his attendance and intense moves at live concerts are the number one way he shows bands his support.

Now a whole evening’s worth of those bands are showing their support for Howes, who, last November, was suffering from a serious medical condition that caused permanent neurological and optic nerve damage. A bigger crisis was averted, but he’s lost all eyesight in his left eye, has substantially impaired sight in the right eye, and has partial paralysis of his left hand.

All of which means he’s no longer able to do the job he’s held for a quarter century (a title searcher). He can’t drive a car. Uninsured medical expenses have stacked up. (Some good news: his application for disability insurance was approved and will start this summer.) Despite all the extreme changes in his life, Howes can still dance and he’s planning to attend Larrypalooza, a benefit concert at the Elevens on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The multi-generational bill includes Steve Westfield and the Slow Band, Angry Johnny and the Killbillies, The Uncomfortables, Creepin’ Cadavers, The Prozacs, No Intention, Gimlet Slip, Donut Kings, Dennis Most, The Howards, The Remones, Pruf, Jim Joe’s Sixty-One Ramblers and “rumors of unnamed surprise special guests.” Westfield, who met Howes at Rahar’s nightclub circa 1980, credits Howes with helping create “that curious phenomenon known as a ‘scene.’ We all had one goal in the ’80s: to promote local hardcore punk rock. We had folks promoting shows in spaces for rent, grange halls and Polish clubs. We had folks doing fanzines. And we had Larry keeping everyone loose and fun, dancing in that groovy, slinky, rubbery, shimmery style all his own. You just got inspired.

“He was always the first person out there, the original ‘Dancing with Myself’ guy. He showed us how not to be self-conscious, and that affected the entire music scene. Western Mass Hard Core was funny, friendly and crazy. And considering how our tiny scene evolved over the years and has influenced music internationally, Larry really earned and deserves our respect and help at this moment.”

Jay Gauvin of The Prozacs couldn’t agree more — he even wrote a song in tribute to Dancing Larry. He started writing it years ago, but hearing news of Howes’ health issues spurred him to finish and record it quickly. It’s a heart-on-its-sleeve punk anthem, and the way the music thunders at full throttle with a bouncy bassline at its core captures both the passion and playfulness of Howes’ spirit.

“He’s older than your mom / dancing ’til the break of dawn / arms are swinging here and there / bald-head sweat flying everywhere / the kids don’t understand / it’s time they get a clue and give credit where credit’s due / Dancing Larry, we love you!”

Gauvin remembered talking to Howes at a show some time ago. “Larry told me he was torn about attending shows like he used to. He seemed on a down, that maybe some of the newer scene might not get what he does, or understand his carefree, totally engrossed dancing and support, even for bands he is seeing for the first time. With all the supporting he has done for my bands and so many others, I knew an anthem in his name was somewhere down the road and more than deserved. I really wanted to express our love for him through the music. When I finally found the right riffs and structure, I knew it would hit him in the heart, as that is where it was coming from.” Howes, who has a perfect vocal cameo on the record, joined The Prozacs in the recording studio. “Larry was dancing off and on in his signature style during the whole 10-hour session,” Gauvin said.

“Larry introduced me to a whole world of local music (and beyond) that was rocking well before I was,” he added. “His passion in connecting with, being a part of and pushing this scene has been huge. He’s very important. He’s adored, respected and loved by so many. His dancing may be his trademark, but it just scratches the surface.”

“He’s the rare iconic individual you find sometimes on the road, someone who sweats the music from his pores,” said Angry Johnny, who headlined at the Bay State the night that Howes’ own band The Hutus debuted. “Genuine in every way. Too bad there’s not a whole lot more like him. He makes every show better.”

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