• Mike Conway

Vulgar Boatmen, Radio Radio, Indy, 10/12/19


Dale Lawrence of the Vulgar Boatmen

The Vulgar Boatmen put out some of my favorite albums of the late 1980s and 1990s so I try to find a way to get to their rare performances these days. Their Saturday night show at Radio Radio in Indy reminded me what an amazing live band they are as well.

I first heard Dale Lawrence back in my IU undergrad days when he was in one of the leading bands of the Bloomington punk era, The Gizmos.

The Vulgar Boatmen: Matt Speake, Vess Ruhtenberg, Courtney Kaiser, Andy Richards, Dale Lawrence

The Vulgar Boatmen's origin story fits well with the music and technology of the1980s. Robert Ray was getting his Ph.D. at Indiana University when he met fellow IU student Dale Lawrence. Ray went on to become a film studies professor at the University of Florida and he created the Vulgar Boatmen with musicians around Gainesville. Lawrence and Ray would each work on songs and then send the cassettes to each other in Indiana and Florida.

Instead of moving to the same town, Lawrence and Ray each led a Vulgar Boatmen band in their area.

The Boatmen mixed in parts Velvet Underground, Big Star, Replacements, with hypnotic melodies and lots of songs about driving. Their first album in 1989, "You and Your Sister," is still remembered fondly, including a New Yorker tribute from a few years ago. Below is a clip of "Margaret Says" from their first album.


Eventually, the Florida version of the Boatmen disbanded, leaving only the Midwest band, led by Lawrence, which had a big following in the Chicago/Indy area, partly because of radio airplay from Chicago's WXRT.

The Vulgar Boatmen put out two more albums, "Please Panic" (1992) and "Opposite Sex" (1995), the latter originally only released in Europe. In 2003, the Boatmen released a remastered compilation CD, "Wide Awake," and in 2015, they put out a special remastered 25th anniversary version of their first album, "You and Your Sister."


The Vulgar Boatmen at Radio Radio, Indianapolis, 10/12/19

In the 1990s, The Vulgar Boatmen were joined by another amazing Indiana band, The Mysteries of Life, led by Bloomington husband-wife team Jake Smith and Freda Love. Jake became de facto bass player for the Boatmen and Dale worked with The Mysteries of Life.

These days, the Boatmen only play occasional shows, mostly in Indianapolis or Chicago.

For the Radio Radio show, Dale was joined by longtime guitarist Matt Speake and drummer Andy Richards. Vess Ruhtenberg (Zero Boys, Lemonheads, United States Three) joined on bass and Courtney Kaiser of the opening band Kaiser Cartel provided harmony vocals.

They played songs from all of their albums including "Wide Awake," "Mary Jane," "Heartbeat," "Margaret Says." Covers included Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion" mixed with John Lee Hooker's "Sally Mae," and The Mysteries of Life's "It's True." They did a great version of The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait," and encored with Dale's old Gizmo's tribute (sort-of) to his Indiana home, "The Midwest Can Be Alright," finishing with T Rex's "20th Century Boy."


The opening act was Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel of Kaiser Cartel.


all photos/video by Mike Conway



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