New York City’s Boss Hog rose from the underground in 1989. As legend has it, the grimy rock & roll and blues-punk band was formed by the married duo of Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer in order to fill an opening on the bill at iconic New York punk club CBGB. Through the 90’s, Boss Hog would release two fiery and provocative studio albums, 3 EPs, and a host of singles. They built a reputation for incendiary live performances that delivered sweat soaked rock & roll crackling with sex appeal and heavy riffs played with a punk rock ferocity. The band hit a creative peak with 2000’s more streamlined and pop-influenced album Whiteout, and then without any fanfare Boss Hog quietly stepped away and went into hibernation. Uncertain whether Boss Hog would return, fans were encouraged when the band resurfaced for a string of reunion shows in 2008/2009. And then, seemingly out of the blue, Boss Hog awoke from their slumber last year and issued “Wichita Grey,” their first new song in 16 years, which was followed by a new EP, Brood Star. Now Boss Hog have been fully resurrected with the announcement of their first new album in 17 years, Brood X, set to be released in the US this April on In The Red Records. Not content to just put out new music, the band have also hit the road in support of the new album, playing a string of dates in Europe followed by a run through the US. The band recently stopped at the Rock & Roll Hotel, in Cristina’s previous hometown, Washington DC.
The room was filled with a mixture of old friends, die-hard fans from back in the day, and a peppering of potential new fans curious to see what Boss Hog could deliver. With a red alert klaxon sounding over the PA and the stage awash in red light, the members of Boss Hog took their places and kicked off their set with new single “Wichita Grey,” followed immediately by “Winn Coma” from their self-titled second album. After soo many years away from the stage, frontwoman Cristina Martinez looked like she hadn’t lost a step. Her eyes covered in black makeup (a visual nod to new song “Black Eyes”) and wearing black feathered shoulder pads that wouldn’t have looked out of place on PJ Harvey, Cristina prowled the stage and often leaned into the crowd while singing with fierce intensity. Jon Spencer started out in the back beside the drum kit, leaving the focus on Cristina as he churned out the gritty high-voltage guitar lines. But as the crackling energy continued to build between the band and wildly enthusiastic crowd, Spencer made frequent forays to the front of the stage sharing vocals with Cristina and connecting with the crowd, escalating the communal experience. Holding down the low end and propelling the band forward, drummer Hollis Queens and bassist Jens Jurgensen might not garner the attention of Martinez and Spencer, but they provide the foundation that holds everything together. With the added flourishes of Mickey Finn on keyboards, the band were completely dialed-in as they cranked through a set that sampled songs both old and new from across their catalog. New songs like “Ground Control” and “Formula X” fit perfectly next to favorites like “Ski Bunny,” “I Dig You,” and the glossier Whiteout songs including “Whiteout” and “Itchy & Scratchy.” Even “Gerard” from their first full-length, Cold Hands made an appearance. By the end of the evening, it was almost impossible to tell who had more fun, the band or the rapturous audience.
Boss Hog still feels vital, even after all these years. The band have re-emerged, climbed back in the car, and slammed their foot on the accelerator. The aptly titled new album Brood X is a reference to a group of periodical cicadas that spend 17 years underground before emerging to the earth’s surface to lay their eggs, only to die off shortly afterward. There have been hints that Boss Hog could stick to the Brood X cycle, and if so… Now is the time to grab their brilliant new music and do not pass up the opportunity to see them live!
Opening the show in DC was singer-songwriter, and old-school Cristina Martinez friend, Anna Connolly. Anna played a short but catchy set and told fun stories about her relationship with Cristina. The middle slot was held down by Escape-ism, the current musical project of notable local DC artist Ian Svenonius. The Escape-ism set was an experimental soundscape that channeled the electronic instrumentation and drum machines of 70’s New York duo Suicide. It was at times confrontational, bordered on performance art, and remained utterly engaging.