There’s a moment, early in every show, when the BoDeans connect with the crowd. It might be during the slow chorus of “You Don’t Get Much.” Or the refrain, “I might never, no never let go – whoa-oh” from “Still the Night.” But sometime during the first few minutes of every BoDeans show I’ve been to, fans will start to sing loudly. And that’s when I know the rest of the night is going to be good.
The BoDeans – the band that made Waukesha, Wis., famous – are songwriters Kurt Neumann and Sammy Llanas. Always known for performing a soul-stirring rock and roll show, they had a fluke hit song (“Closer to Free”) in 1995 before being derailed by a lawsuit in the middle of what would be their only real shot at bigger things. Still trying to make up for lost opportunity, they were back in Indy for a show at the Vogue June 12.
“We have played a lot of shows all these years at the Vogue. And always had a lot of just crazy, crazy packed houses full of people – always had a good time,” Neumann, on the phone from Austin, Texas, says when asked about Indianapolis. “And I think of [drummer] Kenny [Aronoff], because he played a lot of shows with us and he is from there.”
Out from under struggles against management and record companies, Neumann says they have been making an effort to release more music and push forward. The band has become a part of the eclectic Austin music community after spending 30 years in Waukesha. Through the move and all the legal tumult, the band has never stopped performing, but it has been more difficult to find the time and resources to record albums.
“We spent about eight years where management kind of sat and didn’t do much. We went through a big fiasco around 2004,” Nuemann remembers. “We had been dropped by Warner around 1998. My perspective was, ‘Let’s go get another label.’ But the management kind of went on hiatus and we could never get them to work again, though we were going into the studio to make demos because we kept hearing they weren’t good enough.
“It got to a point I finally said to Sam that we were going to have to take things in our own hands. We knew there was going to be big litigation, but we had to go through it to break free and start releasing stuff again.”
The band’s first album, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, was recently re-released. The re-mastered version with bonus tracks helps to put the band’s legacy in perspective.
“The record had always had a lot of warmth and not many people heard it on vinyl because they were buying CDs by then. I just wanted to take another shot at it,” Neumann says.
T-Bone Burnett, mostly unknown at the time, produced the album, long before he became one of the top-shelf producers in rock music.
“I think he likes us because of the authenticity of sound. We also seem to have a common sense of humor,” Neumann says. “There are a handful of people out there who go up on stage and sing songs. And it’s not about a bunch of frills or not about image at all. The BoDeans have been kind of an imageless band – by choice really. We just want it to be about the music. We are not necessarily going to bring a lot of attention to him.”
The re-release is paired with a concert video, recorded in 1985 at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis just weeks before the band signed to Slash records.
“These people contacted us, and had found a bunch of footage down in the basement of First Avenue from a concert we had done in 1985,” he says. “It was right around that time we were talking to the labels and talking about hooking up with T-Bone.”
While the extended hiatus in the late ’90s prevented some projects from being realized, since 2002, the band has released a live album, two studio albums and a live acoustic record through their Web site. The album, Still, released in 2008, reunited the band with Burnett.
“I think we will be remembered for our singing and harmonies and the sound we created together. It was one of the things that defined us and when you heard it you knew it was us,” Nuemann says. “And the live shows were also important, because of the energy we tried to create. So that would be a great thing to be remembered for too.”