The Del Fuegos return to Concord for the final night of their 13-city reunion tour on March 4 expecting a warmer greeting than the one the band received at its first hometown gig 30-plus years ago. The group managed to make it halfway through the first night of a Friday/Saturday run before management at the now defunct Hawaiian Isle II sent them packing.
“That was our first experience when we left college,” said lead singer and guitarist Dan Zanes in a recent phone interview. “By the end of the second set on the first night, they canceled the weekend, gave us the money and said we could go home.”
The four-piece band — brothers Dan and Warren Zanes, Woody Giessmann and Tom Lloyd — then moved south to Boston, finding an audience at the Rat, Paradise, Channel and other rowdy rooms. By 1984, they were signed with Slash Records, home to X, Los Lobos and the Blasters, and Rolling Stone had named them the country’s best new band.
Despite a short run that ended in a 1989 breakup, the group was a big part of the Beantown scene. In 2007, writer Brett Milano named his definitive history of rock music in the city, The Sound of Our Town, after a Del Fuegos song.
“We stumbled into something that was just perfect for us and we didn’t have to change ourselves,” says Zanes. “We were on our own track at that point, and we got lucky.”
There were a few bumps on the road, like a 1985 television ad for Miller Beer. Other rock greats had done commercials — the Rolling Stones once hawked Rice Krispies — but the move backfired when it aired during Live Aid.
“Our timing was a little unfortunate,” says Zanes with a laugh. “Everybody else was raising money to help Africa and we were out there selling beer. It kind of put us at odds with the rest of the community.”
There was an up side: “We were touring out in the Midwest, and it helped a lot of people learn about the band and that worked out really well,” notes Zanes. “It’s just that a lot of critics weren’t into it.”
When the group split, the four members each moved on to successful careers. Dan is a trailblazing family musician; Warren and Tom Lloyd both earned doctorate degrees, and Giessmann, with a master’s from Suffolk University, founded the artists-in-recovery program Right Turn. Apart from a one-off benefit show in 2002, they resisted the urge to reunite.
That changed last summer, when they played a fundraiser for Giessmann’s clinic, joined by fellow Boston club denizens Lyres and Nervous Eaters. The first show sold out, as did a quickly added second night. Together again on the Paradise stage, they found something clicked.
“It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it was really more fun than I have ever had with these guys before,” Zanes says.
Feedback from a crowd that knew the words to every song helped fuel the band’s buzz.
“We tend to forget … it meant something to people,” Zanes says. “To hear everybody sing along made me realize that in some small way we were able to be a soundtrack for people’s lives at one point in time. I know what that feels like as a music fan; it’s an honor to be on the other side.”
The idea of a tour, hitting their favorite ’80s haunts, began brewing.
“I think we realized we could play without having any strings attached so it was strictly about having fun,” Zanes says, adding that without the burden of being a hungry young band, “we just get to go out and ride around in a bus and have fun with our fans.”
The good vibes even led them back to the studio — the first time since 1987’s Stand Up that all four members have recorded together. An eight-song EP, as yet untitled, should be available at the Concord show.
“I’ve been writing songs all along with my brother, and it was nice to just think about the Del Fuegos as a good vehicle for getting some tunes out there,” Zanes says. “In rock ’n’ roll, there’s plenty of room for creativity of all kinds, but it’s also a great excuse to not take yourself so seriously. It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed.”
Asked if hindsight gives him a better understanding of what might have kept the band together, or if that even matters, Zanes demurs: “We learned from the experience with relationships intact. Most importantly, we’re all still alive. A lot of the mistakes we made had to do with lifestyle choices, and not everybody survives that, so we’re very grateful.”
In most respects, the current chemistry trumps the Del Fuegos’ heyday.
“In our own weird way we were able to grow as a band,” Zanes says. “Any time I get together and play with these guys is kind of a mind-boggling experience in a way. It’s like we’re all 21 again, with the same group dynamics and the same way of talking to each other; it’s not like being a bunch of grownups.”