Boxcar Kids: A blend of Salt Lake’s finest egos
If you would have asked me a year ago what I thought of the Boxcar Kids, I probably would have pulled a condescending face and walked away—I didn’t like them at all. Then I heard them play. Ask me now and I would tell you that they are, hands down, the best band in Salt Lake. I hear a lot of crap about the Kids and it’s almost always the same: “oh, Boxcar Kids this, Boxcar Kids that, blah blah blah!” Maybe the reason the Boxcar Kids are so popular is because they are good. I think so. When I first met Jon Shuman (singer, guitarist, songwriter), I was very intimidated. However, I respected him; he told me they were good, and I believed it.
Boxcar Kids are most famous for their egos. After 18 months of flack about it, they finally started using it to their advantage. If you have seen their Pabst Blue Ribbons take off t-shirt, they claim to be a blend of Salt Lake’s finest egos. They have also named their self-released cassette demo Leggo-My-Ego. Boxcar Kids have set themselves up with a high set of standards that they keep. These high standards have put them where they are now.
Things haven’t always been this cushy for the Boxcar Kids. John Shuman says the time they have spent so far has been their comeuppance, or, as he likes to refer to it, their “Hamburg Years.” Their only problem is that they had to spend those years in Salt Lake—The Beatles got lucky (ha, ha).
In the summer of ’87, Jon Shuman came home from California and decided he needed to start a new band. He called up all his old buddies, and they made their debut at Cinema in Your Face in October of the same year. At the time, the lineup included Jon Shuman (vocals, guitar), Jamie Shuman (vocals, percussion), Phil Miller (saxophone), Brendan Walsh (bass, vocals), Chris Camberlango (guitar), Chris Moor (guitar) and Peter Yanowitz (drums & percussion). Soon after that, Chris Moor quit the band only to return when Camber and Jamie quit. When Camber & Jamie quit, Chris Moor’s guitar playing tightened up the band a lot. They are still a five-piece with the power and energy of ten people.
Getting gigs wasn’t easy for the Kids in the early days. The band wouldn’t learn cover songs, and the clubs wouldn’t touch them. Meanwhile, The Word, Speedway Cafe and Cinema were full to capacity every time they played. At some point, however, the clubs started booking them and soon the Kids were playing Bar & Grill, The Foundation, Theo’s (In Ogden, their favorite) and even the cheesy clubs like Z-Place and The Zephyr. The Kids are getting quite tired of playing the club scene and much prefer playing the underground hot spots because the people who go there are there to see them play, not swill brewskies and scam the babes.
Boxcar Kids have made a real change in this ass-backwards town of ours; their determination to play original music in the clubs has made it possible for other bands in town to perform their original music. House Of Cards, Skin “n” Bones, Dinosaur Bones are just a few of them. The Kids have helped to ease a little underground into the mainstream club scene. The Boxcar Kids’ large draw made it possible for The Word to stay open in the early days. People didn’t always come out to see most of the bands in town. There was however a large responsive audience whenever the Kids showed to play. In fact, it was the Boxcar Kids’ idea for the 88 Sabbathon which saved The Word in September; Pete even flew home early to be at the show. They are making relatively good ends meet playing these days. But you will never hear them turn down a chance to play a benefit or charity event.
The Boxcar Kids will definitely get you on your feet. They are always referred to as a funk band though, and that is not their only musical style. When I asked Jon and Chris to define or classify their music, they both quickly refused. The band has the widest format of music I have ever seen in one band. With traces of Chili Peppers, X, Sly and the Family Stone, to Guns & Roses, the band covers all the bases. I look at it as a balls-to-the-wall, anything goes concept—they will try just about anything. With various musical backgrounds. it is like a big melting pot. God only knows what they will try next. I took a friend with me one time to see them play, and he said “this song sounds like an X tune I heard once.” I asked Jon about that. He made a very interesting point; he said “People need to get out of the myth that any music is original music because there is no such thing.” The Boxcar Kids have all types of musical influence to derive their foundation as a band
I have been watching Boxcar Kids play since January of ’88 and have only missed a handful of performances. They are only getting better. With Stench and Insight putting Salt Lake on the national music map, I would like to see the Kids show the rest of the nation exactly what else Salt Lake has to offer. With a great demo tape available and talk of a west coast tour in the making, Boxcar Kids just may get the needed exposure that could get the big ball rolling. Chris says, all they need is a reliable van and a good roadie and they are out of here.
Don’t miss seeing them August 23-24 at the Bar & Grill and again when they headline the 1989 Sabbathon at The “Starship” Word (401 s 400 w) Sunday, August 27. The highlight Boxcar event of the month will be Friday the 18 at the Speedway Cafe when they funk it up with the TarBabies. Check them out and pick up a tape, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.