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The branches of Tree reunite for one more show

The hard-rocking members of Tree include (from left) Mike Mancuso, Jake Westwood, Dave ‘‘River’’ Tree, Bryan ‘‘Ooze’’ Hinkley, and Billy Hinkley. The hard-rocking members of Tree include (from left) Mike Mancuso, Jake Westwood, Dave ‘‘River’’ Tree, Bryan ‘‘Ooze’’ Hinkley, and Billy Hinkley. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / September 17, 2011

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When a record-label rep told the members of the band Tree they looked like a bunch of drunken fishermen, River, the group’s singer, thought that was pretty awesome.

The record company didn’t intend it that way.

“We were naive and could have been smarter about business,’’ says River, now better known as Dave Tree.

Tree played heavy music and spoke its mind on the political and social issues of the day; the band may very well have become Rage Against the Machine had that group never existed. Even though Tree hit a plateau and limped to a “hiatus’’ in 2001 after a decade as one of Boston’s most prominent bands, its legacy was recently affirmed when tickets for its reunion show tonight at the Middle East Downstairs sold out in just weeks.

River himself posted a message on Facebook seeking extra tickets to cover family and friends. Another post from a fan is offering cash and tickets to a Red Sox-Yankees game in exchange for a way in. (Those shut out of the Middle East show can catch the band earlier today when Tree performs at the Freedom Rally on the Boston Common at 5 p.m.)

Before Tree was a band, its members - including drummer Billy Hinkley, guitarist Ooze (also known as Bryan Hinkley), and bassist Jake Westwood - were friends growing up in Westwood. Bassist Westwood recalls being on the same Little League team as River.

“I was the catcher, and he was a relief pitcher. He threw great until he got flustered,’’ Westwood says. “Know how the catcher goes out to the mound to calm down a pitcher? I’ve been doing that with Dave my whole life.’’

The bassist and live-wire singer followed their passions for punk rock, while the band’s drummer shared a taste for classic rock with his younger brother, a guitarist who was just 17 when he joined Tree. (Mike Mancuso, who performed on bass with Tree during its final run, will play a few songs at tonight’s reunion show, too.)

“Ooze came in knowing every Led Zeppelin riff, every Stevie Ray Vaughan riff, every Black Sabbath riff,’’ says Westwood. “I was just trying to hold on.

River says that Tree tossed together all of its influences, not thinking about what it was supposed to sound like by any one scene’s standards.

The confluence of metallic riffs, punk urgency, and lyrics (about environmentalism, police brutality, the labor movement, and the Christian Right) set Tree apart from its peers, for good and ill. Other bands and loads of fans supported Tree, but major record labels and radio outlets outside of Boston were befuddled by the group’s serious songs and court-jester personalities.

Cherry Disc and Wonderdrug, two local record imprints, released seven Tree albums between 1993 and 2001. At its peak, Tree garnered radio play with the song “Death Wish,’’ performed at major festivals, and toured enough to rack up 300,000 miles on its van.

Boston music maven Shred watched Tree’s career from his perch as a DJ at radio station WBCN and describes the band as the link between Boston’s original hardcore scene and the eventual emergence of the more polished sound embodied by Godsmack.

“Tree brought a third wave of Boston hardcore that was like a version of hardcore as perceived out in the suburbs,’’ Shred says. “The tunes had melodies as well as being aggressive.’’

River says Tree’s music was simply a sincere reflection of its influences, which just happened to run from Bad Brains to Grandmaster Flash.

“There was never a conscious effort to make money,’’ River says. “The whole idea of getting on a big label and doing big tours is kind of a New York idea. Our band is Boston. We did it on our own and it spiraled out bigger and bigger, then smaller and smaller. We never really broke up. But everyone burned out.’’

River took on his current moniker as Dave Tree and focuses on visual arts alongside a few low-commitment music projects. Westwood moved to the Cape to raise his two daughters and focus on his construction work. After touring as a guitar tech and adjunct player with Clutch, Ooze rekindled a musical relationship with his brother and they formed Never Got Caught, which has new music coming out later this year.

Tree is reuniting now basically to perform one last time with Honkeyball, whose drummer is moving to Las Vegas.

“That was a tight group of musicians coming up together in the ’90s. We were all close friends, so we wanted to play with Honkeyball before we lost the opportunity,’’ River says. Roadsaw and Space Humpin: $19.99, two other progenitors of the fusion of hardcore and metal that swept Boston’s independent music scene in that era, round out the Middle East bill tonight.

To commemorate the event, River assembled a two-CD anthology of Tree music titled “Choicer Cuts and Lost Tracks,’’ which has songs from the band’s albums as well as previously unreleased material.

Shred, who now works at the Middle East, calls Tree “hometown heroes.’’

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,’’ he says.

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com.