For those of us who weren’t around during Boston’s late-’70s underground rock heyday, a handful of grainy YouTube clips makes for a pretty decent substitute. Quick searches can bring up a teenage David Minehan fronting the slack-punk jangle of the Neighborhoods and the stern and lanky Ian Kalinosky of La Peste jerking back and forth at the Paradise.
Then, of course, there’s the seven-piece freakshow of Human Sexual Response, hijacking the stage in gender-spanking nurse uniforms in one clip, or baiting FCC fines on late-night local TV with gleeful profanity in another. The band was a New Wave clusterbomb with four vocalists and a penchant for crooked pop songwriting that changed the shape of the Boston music scene during one of its most vital eras. Led by the spastic Larry Bangor and a troupe of singers (Casey Cameron, Windle Davis, and Bangor’s brother Dini Lamot), along with a sneakily excellent trio of musicians (Rich Gilbert on guitar, Chris MacLachlan on bass, and Malcolm Travis on drums), the band steamrolled through clubs with a mix of choreography and abandon.
The Neighborhoods’ Minehan, who grew up a few years behind them, happily chimes in about the band: “These guys never have a bad show. You never knew what they were going to do at any given night, but you always came away thinking that they just never failed.”
For years, those manic YouTube clips have been one of the only ways for many to experience the Humans, as their fans called them. Of their two full-length recordings, one is completely out of print (1981’s “In a Roman Mood”) and the other exists as a hard-to-find reissue (1981’s “Fig. 14,” reissued in 1991 as “Fig. 15”).
That’s all set to change next Saturday night, when the group returns to Boston for not only a full-cast reunion performance at the House of Blues, but the unveiling of a self-released live DVD, “Unba Unba,” which brings to life a live show filmed 30 years ago at the Streets, a now-defunct Commonwealth Ave. rock club.
The DVD captures the end of the band’s storied tenure, which lasted from 1978 to 1982. A local filmmaker and M.I.T. teaching assistant named Jan Crocker had been taking students out into the wilds of Boston punk clubs like Cantone’s and the Rathskeller to practice video documentary, editing footage back in the classroom later on.
“We shot hundreds and hundreds of hours of bands then,” says Crocker from his current home in West Yarmouth. Crocker first hooked up with Human Sexual Response after meeting Lamot, who worked for a stint as a bartender in town. “I had been friends and going to parties with them for a while and finally this opportunity came up to film them.”
He hired out a crew, had a mobile recording studio with a 24-track mixing board for live sound, and then edited the footage together for a four-song demo reel in three weeks. A few weeks later, the band had broken up.
“I was shocked,” says Crocker. “They had made real headway with a lot of important people and were on the verge of becoming a real national act. Then: boom.”
The band remembers things a little more modestly.
“It was certainly a special time where you had a new discovery every week,” remembers Bangor, who now lives and works with his partner, a psychiatrist, in Manhattan. “We had a certain degree of success, but it wasn’t any gigantic splash.”
Cameron, the lone female of the group and lead vocalist for their biggest hit, “Jackie Onassis,” thinks it may have worked out for the best. “I think we ended up with more autonomy because we never crossed into big-time popularity,” she says. “God knows, our material is really not that accessible.”
It was good enough, though, to convince her to leave a promising job as an editor at Little, Brown (which had published the landmark Masters and Johnson book “Human Sexual Response” in 1966).
With the group’s lewd behavior (costumes included jockstraps and body paint), off-kilter subject matter (like the morose “Anne Frank Story”), and some very blatant homosexuality, the Humans were never meant to be a mainstream act. They started out as a joke vocal quartet formed in order to attend a party thrown by famed novelty singer Tom Lehrer, who had taught mathematics at M.I.T. That group, Honey Bea and the Meadow Muffins, worked as a spoof country and western group led by Cameron. The concept fit in perfectly with the art world they were invading, anchored by Lamot at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where they met friends like photographer Nan Goldin, who later performed as a go-go dancer for the group.Continued...