Live music at Hojoko provides local context for David Bieber’s rock and roll archive at the Verb Hotel


It’s a Tuesday night at the Verb Hotel in the Fenway, and there’s a Red Sox game next door across Van Ness Street. It is, presumably, another sellout crowd for the hometown baseball team as they take on the Baltimore Orioles, and yet, the noise creeping into the hotel room I’m in is decidedly un-sports-like. Every once in a while, the crowd will roar, like when David Ortiz comes up to bat or when Dustin Pedroia punches another hit into right-centerfield. But the room I’m staying in, on the second floor of the Verb overlooking the glowing pool, patio, and open glass doors of Hojoko, the hotel’s fairly new Japanese Tavern, feels like I’m in one of those apartments above Great Scott in Allston or walking along Mass Ave in Cambridge outside the Middle East and ZuZu.

There’s a rock show going on downstairs, I know because I can hear it. And weirdly enough, things don’t seem out of place.

Inside Hojoko, the Abbie Barrett Band are tearing through their string of hits, razor-sharp guitar-rock songs like “That Shame” and “Take It In Stride”, and earlier in the evening, Boston’s Stars Like Ours and Salem’s Radio Compass added a bit of punk and grunge edge to the night’s live soundtrack. Near the entrance of Hojoko is a table set-up for Girls Rock Campaign Boston, and recognizable faces from the city’s music scene dodge in and out of the hallway-esque room with a jolting side alley fit for a band or party of 20. As Barrett plays on, something might have just happened during the Red Sox game, but no one seems to care. It might as well be Central Square or Allston Village, based on the crowd.

And that’s by design. As the Verb successfully angles itself as a rock and roll boutique hotel (disclaimer: we’ve host our Pool Series there the past two summers), Hojoko, the Tim and Nancy Cushman-owned eatery already known for dynamite food and a cool, lived-in decor and vibe, is suddenly the area’s newest entry into the unpredictable live music circuit.

Tuesday night’s party was a kickoff for their joint live music series, and if you’re still reading this post you know very well we need another welcoming stage (or in this case, floor) in this town. But what makes Hojoko’s efforts as a live music destination all the more interesting is what’s lined around the walls of its restaurant and the connected Verb Hotel. Rock clubs for years have decorated themselves with images of rock icons and reminders of rock and roll history.

But the Verb’s rock decor is overwhelmingly authentic, if not straight up intimidating.

On Hojoko’s exterior facing a parking lot (and Guitar Center, coincidentally), is the old backdrop from T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge, which shuttered last summer. A hallway leading to the guestrooms features a display case out of a museum, packed with vintage radios, visual tributes to the late David Bowie, and a collection of vinyl records birthed over the past few decades by Boston bands. And the lobby — holy shit, the lobby — is an art museum all on its own, thanks to the David Bieber Archives.

Bieber, a longtime fixture and archivist with long-gone FM radio station WBCN and deceased alt-weekly the Boston Phoenix, has famously curated the Verb with items from his own personal collection. And while what he has supplied is a mere drop in the bucket — he estimates his own home houses roughly three percent of his collection, with the rest in secluded storage out in the suburbs — it’s significant as a central anchor to the identity and attitude of the Verb.

The Verb opened two years ago, and Bieber’s memorabilia has lined the walls since day one. But on this particular Tuesday, there was something about the added element of live music that gave the collection a sense of permanence. The Verb is a hotel and it always will be, and Hojoko is a bar/restaurant and always will be — but on this night, the arrival of a rock show, and the sounds of Abbie Barrett, Stars Like Ours, and Radio Compass, and the chatter of countless other musicians there supporting the cause (despite work in the morning, despite the Red Sox next door, despite whatever else Bostonians cite as excuses to stay home these days) helped connect the past to the present in a way seldom felt in music halls and venues. It’s one thing to showcase the past; it’s another to link to the present. It’s even harder to support both respectfully and with necessary vigor.

As the music played, we took a twirl around the room and snapped shots of a few of our favorite things — backstage passes to hang with the Ramones at the Orpheum Theatre back in 1979, sheets of lined paper with handwritten notes by the Cars, and tributes to Morphine’s Mark Sandman and the godfather of Boston rock, Billy Ruane. There are flyers and show posters, opening a portal to the days when Fleetwood Mac would play Tea Party Concerts and music would blare from long-gone spaces like Cambridge’s Jonathan Swift’s and Rise Club. There’s an old festival poster from the early ’90s, were Boston luminaries Buffalo Tom and the Lemonheads get top billing and larger font treatment over a new band called Pearl Jam. There’s a three-page mural from the night, 25 years ago next week, when Nirvana would play the WFNX 8th birthday party with Smashing Pumpkins and Bullet LaVolta on the eve of the release of some album called Nevermind.

The history is well documented, a mix of local and national, with much of it relating, somehow, in some way, to our city. And it is by and large wholly impressive.

On that Tuesday night, as scenesters and musicians mixed and mingled and drank and laughed and collectively couldn’t not give less of a fuck about the Red Sox game next-door, that history was given new context. The Verb isn’t so much a museum, but a meeting space, and while out-of-towners will come and go and check in and check out and probably, most likely, complain here and there about the noise not caused by men in red socks, it’s both what’s on the walls and the bodies in the halls that will connect it from past eras of Boston rock to the ones we are eager to create tonight, tomorrow, and beyond.

Check out some of our favorite pieces from Bieber’s collection, available for anyone to openly peruse on their own time, straight from the colorful walls of the a space where music, on a Tuesday night, breathed with newfound confidence.

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