by Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the November 21, 2013, issue of Worcester Magazine.
It’s Thanksgiving time again and that means reunions: family, friends and high school alums gather to catch up on old times. It’s also time for three old friends to reunite and make some music.
Tony Wilson, Todd Kosiewski and Bret Talbert, who made a pretty big splash in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with a band called Public Works, will reunite for the first time in a decade on Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, at Ralph’s Rock Diner, in Worcester.
In the 10 years that the power-pop band operated, they went from high school pals emulating U2 to dominating the Worcester clubs, releasing 4 EPs, charting in England and touring the US in support of a major British act. The friendships have endured, they all seem pretty excited about the event and they still joke with each other like they might have on one of the interminable and inevitable car rides that form part of the band experience.
The event, which will be headlined by The Public Works, will also feature present-day heavyweights Herra Terra, as well as Ghost Ocean and Ritch Kids. Herra Terra, in fact, is a great contemporary complement to Public Works as a similarly edgy, forward thinking act with national potential. In their day, The Public Works brought a polished, aggressive and serious-faced act to the stage, with a visual style to match their aural sense, initially influenced by U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen, and then by important local acts, like Childhood, The Three Believers and The Pale Nephews, who provided opening slots, became colleagues as Worcester headliners and Boston contenders.
A series of well-recorded EPs landed Public Works slots in Boston clubs, like TT the Bear’s and The Middle East, but it was the band’s third EP, 1988’s “American Electro-Pastel Surge,” recorded by Tom Hamilton (not of Aerosmith) at Boston’s legendary Synchro Sound, that signaled a new direction for the band. Transfixed by the lysergic sounds coming out of Manchester, England, as well as Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and influenced by local compadres The Pale Nephews, the band took the music deeper and infused their songs with more meaning.
Managing to slip the EP into the hands of their heroes, The Wonder Stuff, in the parking lot at The Paradise, the unlikely happened: The wonder Stuff invited the band on tour – eight stops, including New Jersey’s Stone Pony; Washington DC’s 9:30 Club; Atlanta’s Cotton Club; Austin’s Liberty Lunch; and two stops that the band members call the highlight of their time together: Montezuma Hall, at San Diego State University and The Palace, in Los Angeles. On tour, the band enjoyed the challenge of winning over new crowds nightly. The crowd at The Palace – a capacity crowd of about 2,500 – included Brian Setzer, Robbie Grey of Modern English, and (allegedly) Madonna.
The band’s success continued. Upon returning home, they earned an opening slot for rising British act, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, at The Paradise, where they had met The Wonder Stuff before, but had only dreamed of performing. Further, CUSM had asked the band to record a cover song for release as a b-side of one of their singles, fully paid for by the British act; and Robbie Grey, impressed with the act, worked with his own label to get The Public Works signed.
The single reached number 11 on the British charts, and the band felt that they were driving strong, but the gas tank was running low. First, their recently hired manager had walked off with money they had spent on merchandise and other band expenses (Bret estimates $1,000-1,500). Then, the record deal efforts by Grey, as well as their own attempts, failed. Music was changing in the early ‘90s, and record label sweeps of Boston sought heavier bands, like Seattle produced. The band felt like they were spinning their wheels.
A last EP, “Boondoggle,” was eventually completed, but didn’t bring the growth that the band had hoped it might. Tony accepted the offer to play drums on a record and on tour with upcoming Boston act, The Drop Nineteens, which ended as quickly as it began.
Fazed and tired, the band called it quits, finishing in the spring of 1994 with a show at Ralph’s, but not before making their mark and achieving a considerable level of success for a few local kids, cemented with their inclusion in respected local music chronicler, Brian Goslow’s, retrospective of late ‘70s to present Worcester rock.
Come on out to Ralph’s and check out a piece of Worcester’s rock heyday and a few of its promising acts of today on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 9 p.m.