The Phoenix spends the weekend with . . . The Toothaches!

VIDEO: Back home from Brooklyn, it's the Toothaches! Motion pictures and words by P. Nick Curran and Addison Post 

Well past midnight on a Saturday, Rose Blakelock and Zimmy Ayer of THE TOOTHACHES descended through a busted basement bulkhead, past piles of scrap wood and discarded abike frames, into a single-lit room where several people sat Indian-style on a rotted carpet. Acoustic guitar and ukulele ricocheted off the foundation walls and haphazard harmonies coalesced and dissolved, only to have Blakelock ruin it all.

“Fuck it, I’m out of tune, can we start over?” she said, perhaps not registering the endearing qualities of a vaguely tuned ukulele by cellarlight. Or that most in attendance were at that moment reminded of how Boston once loved the Toothaches brand of folk-hued rock and roll.


Before moving to Brooklyn last year, the Toothaches were building momentum in Boston. They got pegged as the next big thing, they opened for Freezepop, they played with Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and nearly every show became a crazed dance party. But, like many Boston bands, they heeded Brooklyn’s inexplicable call.

“I felt stuck here, I needed a change of scenery,” said Blakelock. “I needed to be scared shitless.”

This past weekend, the Toothaches destroyed my life with love and whiskey. They camped in my living room, performed in my attic, and defiled my couches. Firm adherents to the tenets of rock and roll, not a second past without beer, bottle or guitar. Buds materialized during their park performance at three a.m., Wild Turkey disappeared during their interviews at four. All the while, through every shot, swig and pull, they retained the remarkable ability to perform and engage. And, of course, the Toothaches celebrated their return to Boston.
Perhaps a reflection of their off-stage antics, their performance Sunday at the Middle East Upstairs demonstrated an entirely different beast from the previous year's experience. What was once pop-rock is now full on rock and roll: Jagged, Pixies-inspired two-note guitar leads and clouds of distortion to make J. Mascis jealous, all countered by layers of keyboard and glockenspiel. The boy-girl vocal dynamic remains, and the cutesy, borderline twee vibe still swirls beneath their arrangements, but it is bolstered by an abrasive, somehow charming rock swagger.

“Let’s get the war paint!” Ayer yelps at the beginning of  “XTC Song”, before the band builds an effortless, anthemic chorus characteristic of their new material. Keyboards descend while guitars elevate, which even with poor sound and an occasionally shaky rhythm section managed to craft authentic nostalgia for musical eras past.

“I want to play rock and roll,” said Ayer late on Sunday. “I’m tired of musicians and I’m tired of art.”


After their park performance, perched atop a rock under lone lamplight, Ayer and Blakelock locked arms, sipped beers and brandished their matching tooth tattoos. For a band aspiring to rock abandon, they sure are cute. But maybe that is just further fuel for their limitless bravado.

“We still love you guys, we love Boston,” said Blakelock. “And to be able to say now we have Boston and New York, well, next time you talk to us it will be the entire world and you’ll be there with us.”

- P. Nick Curran and Addison Post

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