Fireworks a la Dove Street

Among the many peripheral, random events held all over Newburyport during Yankee Homecoming is the block party on Dove Street before and through the fireworks.

Dove is a short, narrow, one-way affair that lands on Merrimac St. across from Leary’s parking lot, so it’s easy for the city to grant a permit to shut it down for a few evening hours.  Yesterday’s gathering was the 13th or 14th annual depending on how you figure the shutdown of COVID-20.

For me it was the first.  Not just at Dove but anywhere, not just this year, but in my life.  And I went under the assumption that any band at a block party would be aspiring high-schoolers playing standard hits note for every familiar note.

Turns out Astral Lemon is a Boston-based group that has been together a few years. Vocalist and front man Stylianos Psarogiannis–who also plays guitar, keyboard, or something that looks like a flugelhorn–not long ago was a student at the Berklee School of Music. He has stayed in touch with his history teacher, a resident of Dove Street who plans and supports the annual event, long enough to land this gig.

The day was so hot that I pretty much inhaled a 12-oz. ale as soon as I sat down, but that had nothing to do with the sensation that Astral Lemon creates as soon as they take up their instruments and start playing.

A couple about my age felt it as well, and we went back and forth identifying the influences we were hearing.  I offered the Mothers of Invention, King Crimson, and Blind Faith.  They suggested Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd, the last of which comes closest to a set list that includes two tracks each from The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Wish all my college friends were there to hear it with me.

All songs followed the otherworldly soundscape of some 15 minutes of three soaring guitars, rapid fire drums, and high energy keyboard. All of it had me back in 1968 before Astral Lemon was introduced and “opened” with “I Shot the Sheriff.”

Somehow I had forgotten that it was written by Bob Marley, but Astral Lemon reveled in the reggae glossed over by Eric Clapton.  That may seem incongruous, but it was just right as a transition from the raw power of their warm up into the reassuring comradery of the vocals.  More than that, it was the first of many offerings featuring mesmerizing guitar work that ranged from Dire Straits’ dazzling “Sultans of Swing” to the Doors’ deep and probing “Love Me Two Times” and “Riders on the Storm.”

Speaking of deep and probing, you might wonder if they play one Beatles’ song so that Psarogiannis can pause and look at lead guitarist Dinos Alvanos after the line, “He’s got hair. Down. To his knees.” But “Come Together” features bassist Filipo Goller who would do Paul McCartney proud with both his steady formidable support and his occasional playful leads.

Rhythm guitarist Oliver Ordish adds exquisite echoes of lines note for contrapunctal note in addition to joining some of Alvanos’ powerhouse leads and enhancing drummer Eduardo Hoyos’ feverish pace on the songs that call for it. No matter the pace or the intensity, Astral Lemon plays every instrument with precision that lets you hear every note.

Watch Hoyos and you can see him going through gears, zero-to-sixty in no time. On slower songs such as Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” he excels with syncopation, for which his four bandmates are noticeably grateful.

Starting just after 7:00, the band took a break after playing “Jailhouse Rock”–a nice pun, intended or not–just in time for us to move to the bottom of Dove and watch the fireworks over the gray house adjacent Leary’s parking lot. Later I would learn that one resident takes neighborhood dogs “for a long car ride until the fireworks end.”

Following the fireworks, Astral Lemon’s second set was just three songs. Was the pun intentional as they played Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” while spectators filed past them on their way back up Dove? Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” would have been just as much of a pun in the years before everyone quit smoking.

The set was short only because the hour was late. Ordinarily, I’d concede that fireworks are an impossible act to follow, but on Dove Street, once every year, they are part of the show.

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Astral Lemon on Dove Street last night of Newburyport’s Yankee Homecoming, L2R: Dinos Alvanos, lead guitar; Filipo Goller, bass; Eduardo Hoyos, drums; Stylianos Psarogiannis, vocals; Oliver Ordish, rhythm guitar. Photo by Patricia Peknik.

Post Script:

As I left the block party, I heard faint music coming from the tent under which Astral Lemon was packing up. Sounded vaguely familiar, as it had a flute, so I stopped. Yes, it was Jethro Tull playing “Locomotive Breath.” Already having thanked them for giving me a night back in 1968, especially with their opening soundscapes, I had to let them know: “I’ve been to at least 35 Tull concerts in the past fifty years.” Immediately, they all wanted to know if I heard Tull’s Thick as a Brick tour. “Twice,” I said, and they were in awe. Dawned on me that I could have been talking to five grandsons, but that’s another story. While driving home, something else dawned on me: Brick was one of the first rock-and-roll albums–The Who’s Tommy another–to feature soundscapes.

And a personal note:

The gray house aside Leary’s parking lot was where my “Aunt Alice” lived. Not sure of the exact relationship, but I’m fairly sure her last name, married or not, was “Creeden,” likely a cousin to my paternal grandmother–Mary Elizabeth Creeden before she became Mrs. Garvey–born and raised in Newburyport. I recall that Alice was quite old when I was brought to visit during my early grade-school years in Lawrence. I’m still sorry for the bottle of water I knocked over on her dining room table.

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3 thoughts on “Fireworks a la Dove Street

  1. Boy, “I Wish I Was There”! “Jethro Tull”, reminds me of driving back to The Ohio State University from Maryland. I would listen to Ian & “Jethro Tull” while driving on I70. I will make a Spotify Playlist of the songs in this post!

    Yesterday evening I was a “Driver In The Storm”. I was driving to Logan to pick up my Grandsons. It was very hard to see! “Thunder and Lightning, very, very, frightening!”. My queen, Barbara, was driving our son’s car.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would like Astral Lemon to perform at Riverwalk Brewing Co. There will not be any “Locomotive Breath” since the railtrack is now a rail trail. I have to enjoy their music. Thank You, Jack!

    PS. I was ushering at the Firehouse last Saturday while the fireworks were going on. I could hear the “thunder” when the music was not being performed. When I read the director’s notes, I thought of you, my favorite Busker!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for both notes, Andy! If you know the folks at Riverwalk or at Newburyport Brewery, please feel free to use this. For those wondering about your reference to “director’s notes,” Once is a play now running weekends through Sept. 4 at the Newburyport Firehouse. A love story about two musicians, one of them a busker, in Dublin.

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