Aloha Steamtrain celebrates 20th anniversary with fundraiser for Dakin Humane Society

  • The Aloha Steamtrain COURTESY OF ALOHA STEAMTRAIN

Published: 11/30/2016 3:45:15 PM

It began with three friends. Mild-mannered, maybe.

Until the curly-haired one got behind the drums and let loose like a cross between Keith Moon and Ronnie Tutt. And the quiet tall one grabbed a bass and struck a tough, wry pose and kept the rhythm steady so the drummer had space to spazz. And then you find out the other guy is a Lord. A charismatic frontman with theatrical pipes who often winds up shirtless by show’s end, maybe standing on a table out in the crowd, or playing molten electric guitar while writhing on his knees by the bass drum.

That was the psychedelic rock circus known as The Aloha Steamtrain, a popular part of the Northampton music scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The band — vocalist/guitarist Russell “Lord Russ” Brooks, bassist Henning Ohlenbusch and drummer Brian Marchese — is reuniting for a 20th-anniversary concert.

The show is a benefit for the Dakin Humane Society in Leverett, as well as the official release party for the group’s brand-new best-of collection, “Golden Hits,” and it’s happening at The Parlor Room in Northampton Saturday at 8 p.m. Starting off the night are Annie and Jason from local band Beach Honey.

The Steamtrain, which started chugging in 1996, eventually expanded its membership to include Joe Boyle, a liquid-fingered lead guitarist with seriously effortless chops, and it’s that four-piece lineup that will appear at The Parlor Room. (For a short while, keyboards were added by a fifth member, this writer, who is not playing the gig.)

“Golden Hits,” featuring cover art by Brooks’ wife Perry Carter, is a well-curated compilation of highlights from the band’s three CDs, including local radio staples “Last Week” and “Misty Paradise.”

But even super-fans won’t have the never-before-available bonus song, recorded live at the former Bay State Hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2001 — nine minutes of crazed, set-ending thunder, with wild guitar and vocal-cord-shredding screams and celebratory hooting and hollering. Just by listening you can smell the beer and cigarette smoke.

Earlier this week Clubland interviewed frontman Lord Russ about the Steamtrain’s vivid and colorful past and present.

Clubland: You've done musical projects before and since the Steamtrain, but what makes the union of you, Henning and Brian (and later Joe) so special?

Lord Russ: The roots of the Steamtrain go deep. I’ve known Henning since we were 5 years old, and Brian since I was 16 or so. The love is all-pervasive. At one point or another — or several points — Henning, Brian and I have all been housemates, and dormmates and best mates. We spent so many hours together making music, or driving to the next gig, or partying in this town or that town all night long. I learned so much about life from our adventures. I feel like we all had a second childhood, but this time we got to choose our siblings.

It was always exciting and I think we all thrived on the unexpected, knowing we had each other should something go horribly wrong. Driving home from a gig in Providence at 3 in the morning, Joe and I and our manager at the time, Donal Rooke, had a near-death experience as our car was totaled by a drunk driver in his giant Dodge Ram pickup truck. We made it through with humor. Donal, covered in blood in the hospital bed next to me, asked, “Russell, how are your ribs?” I told him they hurt like hell, and in turn asked, “How are your ribs, Don?” His response was, “A little undercooked, but the flavor is delicious.” I think I broke another rib just laughing at that.

I think the answer to your question is simply that there is a loving magic that flows when we play music together ... and it’s a hell of a lot of fun! It's been years since we played a full-length concert. I couldn't be more thrilled to reunite with my brothers and make our sounds.

Clubland: The Steamtrain started in 1996. Do your songs from that era still resonate with you? Do they have a different dimension for you here in the 21st century?

Lord Russ: I listen to those songs now and I hear myself celebrating life and indulgence, while simultaneously crying out for relief from loneliness, and working through a lot of the rage and depression of my childhood. And overcoming my shyness by asking for what I wanted out of life onstage in my songs. It’s hard for me not to see myself as a caterpillar in those songs, because they all point to what I was to become, and who I am today, and in the future.

Many of the lyrics I’ve written just came to me and I didn’t fully understand them at the time. But in hindsight, even the metaphorical songs are simply me wearing my heart on my sleeve. I've never been one for secrets or hiding who I am. I did enough of that as a child.

Clubland: The 20th-anniversary show is also a benefit for the Dakin Humane Society, presented by your business venture, The Green Groomer Dog Salon. Why is that cause so important to you?

Lord Russ: My amazing artist wife, Perry Carter, and I are huge animal-rights advocates, and vegans. I've always been in love with dogs. When I was a child, my dog Monte and I were best friends. I opened my dog-grooming business in Northampton because I think the industry is outdated, uses inhumane methods, and needs to be shown there are other ways of getting the job done in a more gentle and compassionate manner. I feel that I provide a safe place for animals, and the products we use are eco-friendly, so the Earth and the dog will be happy and free from bad karma.

This is why I wanted to make our show a benefit for Dakin. I am in pain knowing animals hurt, or are scared, or having a hard time finding a home. If we can raise some decent money to help the dogs, I'll know the Steamtrain is still spreading our love, and I'll be happy.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.




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