Rust Belt rock: Borstal Boys bringing old-school bar rock back to Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — Guitar grind and grit; sweat and swagger.

A singer on stage in a darkly lit bar, testifying about the wonders and woes of love.

It’s all there, in the deliciously throwback sound of Borstal Boys.

Do you like the ’70s Rolling Stones? Or how about The Faces?

If so, then check out Borstal Boys, a Pittsburgh band ready to make an impact. Having wowed crowds in Cleveland and State College, Pa., Borstal Boys will entertain Friday at Get Hip Recordings, an appropriately cool and blue-collar spot in Pittsburgh’s Manchester section.

What started as a solo record by seasoned bassist Anthony Lamonde (Torn and Frayed, the Science Fiction Idols) turned into a full-fledged band boasting of members who played in such respected ’Burgh groups as Rusted Root, Joe Grushecky’s Houserockers and Bill Toms and The Hard Rain.

“This is my last chance. I’m trying to do something with my music,” Lamonde said last week in a phone interview. “What I want to do, is get played on radio. That’s what the goal is. I want people to hear my music.”

Borstal Boys originals like ″Head Full of Ghosts” or the band’s cover of the Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” scream for airplay on a station like Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM Radio.

“It’s just hard to get on things like that,” Lamonde said.

Pittsburgh rock stalwart WDVE-FM might want to set aside airtime for the Borstal Boys, who have been solidifying their chemistry with gigs at places like Peter B’s in Butler County and Portogallo Peppers N’at in Braddock.

“We’re trying to get tighter and tighter as a band, playing live,” Lamonde said.

Get Hip Recordings will be a good showcase Friday, with its cozy listening room upstairs above the label’s vinyl record store in an industrial-looking building that hasn’t been Lawrenceville hipster-ized yet.

“I like how they’re pushing local music,” Lamonde said. “It’s going to be a cool show.”

Borstal Boys are signed to a different emerging Pittsburgh label, The Vault Records, also committed to pushing local bands.

Named after a 1973 song by the Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood-led Faces, Borstal Boys traces its origins to songs Lamonde began writing while playing with a local band the Dirty Charms. Those new songs didn’t quite fit the Dirty Charms’ style, so Lamonde opted to make a solo record, bringing in hired guns like Norm Nardini, Beaver Valley keyboard ace Hermie Granati, and Rusted Root co-founding guitarist Patrick Norman, who Lamonde would run into at a Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh’s East End.

“I don’t know how it happened,” Lamonde said. “Just a bunch of guys who slowly morphed into a band.”

That band includes organist Joe Pelesky who was in Grushecky’s Houserockers, along with drummer Scott Wilson and bassist Vinny Q, whom Lamonde both previously played with in a 1990s band Torn and Frayed (a name lifted from a Rolling Stones song). Torn and Frayed won the 1992 Graffiti Rock Challenge, Pittsburgh’s biggest and best battle-of-the-bands.

Borstal Boys even have a publicist and interest from a New York booking agent Norman knew through his days with multi-platinum Rusted Root.

So the parts are in place, now it’s time to spread the fan base via shows like Friday’s gig at Get Hip, located above Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff music museum.

Tickets are $8, available only at the door, with Rock Bottom brewery on hand selling its craft brews. A band called Brewer’s Row starts the show at 8:30 p.m.

Sounds like a good night of Rust Belt rock.

“Seems like people want to hear that old-school rock and roll again,” Lamonde said. “That Stones style of rock and roll.”

“Most of the bands in town have a harder-edged rock sound than what we’re doing,” Lamonde said.

The public response, both at gigs and via YouTube, has been positive.

“They like our originals. They like our covers,” Lamonde said. “It’s been nothing but compliments for us.”

A next step might be getting Borstal Boys booked to open for nationally touring acts playing Pittsburgh.

“Bigger shows so more people can see us,” Borstal said.

The Vault’s website streams seven Borstal Boys songs, including “Fallen Angel,” an original inspired by the late-Paul Shook, a member of Torn and Frayed and Norm Nardini & The Tigers, who according to Lamonde partied as hard as he played.

“It’s about losing someone and thinking back about what could have been,” Lamonde said.

Another original, “Green Light,” with high-end looking video, is a song about a guy getting all the right signals from a woman showing interest in him.

A few decades ago, Lamonde’s band would have released all its songs simultaneously on an album; but now the game plan is to release a new song or two every couple months with the album to follow.

“Seems people are more interested in one song at a time,” Lamonde said. “And you have to have a video to go with it. We’re just trying to change with the times.”

But like The Faces and Stones did 45 years ago, the emphasis of Borstal Boys live shows is pure, high-energy fun. Don’t expect any political songs.

“Just cool, good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll,” Lamonde said. “Not something that’s going to get you worked up. We want you to enjoy it and relax and forget about your problems.”

2019-02-21T20:12:00+00:00 February 21st, 2019|