Boston’s theatrical band triggers a rare reunion.
From risqué lyrics to charismatic shows and wild costumes, Human Sexual Response embodied its provocative name from the moment the group emerged on Boston’s New Wave scene in the late ’70s.
The city vice squad crashed one gig on a porno false-alarm after a flyer advertised the concert would feature “films.” Then there was the time the band sang a friskily lewd song on the after-hours TV program Five All Night. DJ host Matt Siegel danced with the live audience and producers flipped out. “The whole course of the evening was how outrageous this new music scene was,” lead singer Larry Bangor says. “So we figured we’d do something outrageous.”
The part-straight/part-gay sextet was best known for two novelty numbers, the racy “What Does Sex Mean to Me?” and the hit “Jackie Onassis,” with its couplet, “I want to be Jackie Onassis, I want to wear a pair of dark sunglasses.”
“Any art that pushes controversial boundaries always gets in a little quicker and easier if you have a dollop of humor,” guitarist Rich Gilbert says.
Beyond button-pushing ditties, Human Sexual Response also wrote songs that sounded spooky and serious, such as “Anne Frank Story” and “Land of the Glass Pinecones.” The group killed onstage behind its novel front line of four singers who shimmied in spastic coordination.
Bangor and his brother, Dini Lamot (they used pseudonyms), first connected with Casey Cameron and Windle Davis to form an a cappella group and sing at parties. After a country phase as Honey Bea and the Meadow Muffins, the singers posted an ad seeking rock musicians. Seeing the ad and its catalog of influences, including the Jackson 5 and MC5 listed together, Gilbert knew he had to audition.
“Within the first minute, I knew there was something unique and special going on,” the Berklee dropout says. “They didn’t look or sound like anybody else. Their four distinctive personalities were completely on display but also the unity, the chemistry.”
With Gilbert, drummer Malcolm Travis and bassist Chris Maclachlan (who replaced Rolf Anderson before the band recorded its two albums), Human Sexual Response secured a deft balance. In Gilbert, the band found a sonic architect who merged his love for punk with textural diversity that nodded to his guitar hero, Steve Howe of Yes. “I was very conscious of composing and arranging guitar parts that worked in the structure,” says Gilbert.
The group played its first gig in 1977 at the Birdcage, a Combat Zone strip club that began booking rock. “Some bikers got into a fight with pool cues,” Bangor says. “It was weird to be standing on basically a stripper’s stage, and people were beating each other.”
Over the next five years, the Humans found a more compatible audience in Boston and beyond. “We had an odd lineup, so that probably helped,” Bangor says. “But it’s mainly because we had good songs and we were fun onstage.” The band even played in occasional matching costumes, from nurse dresses to black body paint and pink hair. For a 1984 Halloween reunion, band members arrived in skeleton outfits, and go-go dancers crawled up web-like nets.
Human Sexual Response had broken up two years earlier. “With seven very strong, distinctive personalities, even deciding where to eat dinner, you sometimes had to bring in a negotiator,” Gilbert says. But to stage a few reunion shows through the ’80s, Bangor adds, “We never really had to twist arms.”
Nonetheless, a Nov. 10 date at House of Blues marks the group’s first Boston performance in nearly 25 years, celebrating a long-delayed DVD from a 1982 show. Bringing in members from around the country, the Humans warm up on Nov. 7 at a club in New York, where they reunited in 2008 for a test drive. “I’m confident,” Bangor says. “When we did this show four years ago, it took two songs before we were pretty much there, and we sound better than we used to.”
Human Sexual Response plays House of Blues on Nov. 10