On Thursday night, Rick Berlin played the third biggest venue of his career with The Nickel And Dime Band.
The House of Blues (HOB) was the place, hosting Dr. Dog, Purlin Hiss and The Nickel and Dime Band for an evening of rock and roll. All three bands played to rave reviews from the Boston Globe: “At minimum a generation removed from his current bandmates, Berlin looked and sounded as inspired as he did stalking city stages back in the day when he could capitalize off of punk’s freedom without conforming to its sound,” wrote Scott McLennan.
Preparation began well before stage call though. Sitting in Berlin’s apartment at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, I fiddled with my video camera while the first load-in of the day commenced. Equipment was hauled down a long flight of creaky wooden stairs and into Rick’s olive-green Kia. Rob Manachio, a guitarist of The Nickel and Dime Band, and one of Rick’s roommates, was pensive.
“I don’t know if I’m excited or nervous,” Manachio said.
On the sidewalk in front of the apartment building, it was decided who would ride in which car. Berlin’s second roommate, TJ Wenzl, had earned his ride with official camera and unofficial roadie duty; likewise I had clinched mine with the innumerable hours spent with Berlin. Plus, I had a professional video camera.
Manachio and I squeezed into guitarist Ricky Mclean’s car. Mclean’s young daughter sat quietly in her car seat, stubbornly refusing to sing along to “Little Bunny Foo Foo” blasting out the open windows. Mclean sang loud enough for both of them, doing his part to rouse Violet, band members and hangers-on (Wenzl and myself).
After both Mclean and Berlin turned down Landsdowne Street and pulled up to the HOB, equipment was moved inside the club. Dr. Dog was doing their sound check. “This is fucking beautiful,” said Rick, while passing out green all-access badges and printed pages of instructions for the band. Berlin was clearly the coordinator of the group, directing band members, smoothing over issues with HOB staff, and preparing for their sound check.
According to Tyler Sweet, a guitar technician I interviewed for a previous piece, sound checks vary by bands. Some don’t even do them at all. Dr. Dog not only checked their sound, but also appeared to be working out parts of songs they weren’t completely satisfied with. The pre-show process hummed along, with technicians tweaking instruments, testing lights and assembling the set. I watched a light technician strap himself into a harness, straddle the metal bars of the truss, and take a motorized ride to the ceiling. The truss’ movement was controlled by another tattooed technician wearing a black Ramones T-shirt and low-hanging jeans. Sound and light engineers managed what was happening on stage from a large console — the front of house — on the edge of what would be a packed audience later in the evening. The console looked incredibly complex, like a hybrid airplane-spaceship dashboard.
After Dr. Dog wrapped, Rick Berlin with the Nickel and Dime Band were lucky enough to get a 10-minute sound check before heading up to one of the green rooms backstage. Joe Stewart was mixing their sound, and each band member got a chance to yelp, scream and bark into their microphones to ensure everyone would be as tight as possible for their performance.
As my lime-green “photo suprt” badge would only get me behind the barricade once security’s shift began, I made sure to follow the band backstage before anyone showed up who would question my credentials. The band got first-rate treatment from the HOB staff, ordering a case of Sam Adams beer (Sorry Rick, no Miller Lite), pillaging the refreshments in the refrigerator of Green Room #2 and sharing Dr. Dog’s catered dinner. The bathroom was so nice that one of the band members meditated in there before the show. There was a loose and excited vibe as they psyched themselves up for 8 p.m.
With the band in black and Berlin in white, The Nickel and Dime Band took the stage at exactly 8 o’clock, opening with “Baseball Park” to a large crowd. Their energized performance immediately captured the crowd and as I moved back and forth in front of the barricade, I could hear people clapping and dancing behind me. The fans in the front row particularly enjoyed “Slut.” Regardless if it was the lyrics or Berlin’s dancing that pulled them in, they were having a good time. The band was having a blast as well, and their unadulterated delight was infectious.
After the short set, band members and friends gathered around their merchandise table to the left of the stage. I ran into Mclean and guitarist Tom Appleman as they wandered through the HOB, taking advantage of their all-access badges and accepting compliments from people in the audience. The affable drummer, Alec Radzikowski, kept saying how blown away he was that people he didn’t even know were giving him props. They were happy.
I slipped out of Dr. Dog’s set early. As I walked over the Massachusetts Turnpike toward Kenmore Station utterly exhausted, heavy equipment slung over my shoulders that had been rubbed raw by the bag straps, I stopped for a moment. I dropped my cameras and stared out at the lit-up city as the cars rushed past beneath my feet. I couldn’t help but feel that a perfect night for Rick Berlin and The Nickel and Dime Band had just transpired.
I picked up my gear and kept walking.