Our original angle on visiting Boston’s newest live music hot spot, Roadrunner music club, was that the venue is named after the classic 1970s rock n’ roll song put out by the band The Modern Lovers. Not seeing the Natick connection? Here’s the lowdown: the classic tune, an ode to Route 128, was written by Natick native Jonathan Richman.
That’s all the encouragement we need to chase down a story. Besides, we wanted to check out the place, which opened in mid-March. So off we went to pay our inaugural visit on Tuesday, April 5, to catch LCD Soundsystem on their third of four nights at the concert hall. (Coincidentally, they played a song called “Losing My Edge” that includes the line: “All the Modern Lovers tracks”).
Roadrunner is located on Guest Street, about a half hour drive at 6pm on a Tuesday night from South Natick. We would have taken the commuter rail to Boston Landing, which practically sits at the venue’s front door, but as usual the MBTA schedule is pretty useless for events that end a few hours after sundown—you get stuck either leaving your event early or investing in a pricey ride service trip. We scored sweet on-street parking, and there are a handful of nearby garages, too. If you haven’t been over to this area of late, it’s been transformed, featuring the gleaming New Balance and Warrior Ice Area buildings that you can’t miss when traveling the Mass Pike. Roadrunner is smack in the middle of all that, along with the Rail Stop Restaurant, where we began our evening.
But first, the venue.
You barely can tell it’s there from where we entered on Guest Street other than the “R” logos and the line of incoming patrons. We arrived early (more on that later) and cruised right in after showing IDs and getting our bracelets to prove we’re part of the over 21 crowd. After passing through security, we entered the venue. Our vax cards weren’t checked, and most inside were maskless.
The place is huge, as you might have heard. Operated by the same Bowery business that runs The Sinclair in Cambridge, Roadrunner has a similar feel in that it’s all about the music. Well, and the bars. There are three long bars on the first floor and more on the second floor, including one where you can essentially escape any view of the stage other than what you’d see on a closed-circuit TV screen.
Roadrunner holds 3,500 patrons, and about that many were there. The floor level was pretty packed, though you could air out a bit near the back and edges, or head up the second level, where we situated ourselves. There are a few rows of relatively uncomfortable seating (think concrete) up there for those who prefer not to stand the whole time, plus standing room along railings. One standing room section is off-limits to those who don’t upgrade above general admission. It didn’t look like those who paid for the privilege got all that much extra for their money, beyond hovering bouncers tasked with keeping the riff raff out of that special space. The view from just one row above is good though, especially straight on. As proud members of the riff raff, that’s where we staked out our spot.
While the venue is largely made of hard surfaces, the acoustics were clear. It felt very much like we were in a surround-sound theatre, and it was pretty hard to converse in between songs or during the DJ set ahead of the main act.
LCD Soundsystem, which has stuck close to home in New York during the pandemic, only recently started to branch out and play elsewhere, including the four shows here and before that, four in Philly. The band, often described as dance-punk, has been around for about 20 years. The outfit, led by vocalist James Murphy, consisted of eight players on stage, featuring a mess of instruments from bass and electric guitars to keyboards, synths, and drums, including bongos. Everyone seemed to get a piece of the drum kit at some point during the show, and drummer Pat Mahoney held court at the front right of the stage. The band played a strong 18-song set, with material from across its collection, including crowd favorites “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” “Tribulations,” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” Explosions of light ranging from golds to reds to blues at times accentuated the music and at other times were too much.
The one downside of Roadrunner, like with so many music venues just looking to get you on premises so you’ll buy drinks and merchandise, is that it wasn’t clear when the main act would start to play. I’ve been to enough shows locally to realize these things are never exact, but the tickets said the show started at 8pm, and no opening act was listed (I usually figure the main act goes on around 9 if there’s an opener). It turned out a DJ played tunes for almost 90 minutes. I definitely should have worked social media harder to get clues about when the real show would start, especially since LCD Soundsystem had already played two shows there.
Despite this inconvenience, we’ll be back, as their line-up includes more bands and performers we look forward to seeing live.
Rail Stop Restaurant
We enjoyed a pre-concert meal at Rail Stop Restaurant, just steps from the venue. Like Roadrunner, it’s big and airy.
We ate in the main dining area, which was quiet at first, but filled up as we dined. On our way out, we could see that the spacious bar area looked to be the buzzier place to hang before or after a show.
I started with clam chowder ($9), which had a smoked bacon flair. It was flavorful, included a good amount of clams, and thankfully, didn’t include a heavy onion taste (my make-or-break issue on clam chowder).
For entries, I went with a grilled chicken sandwich (minus the buttermilk ranch dressing). More smoked bacon, so I got my fill for the month there. The sandwich was served on a toasted brioche roll done just right. It came with a choice of sides, and I went with a salad served in a generous portion, with a variety of crisp lettuce.
My wife ordered the Apple Walnut Salad, tossed with spinach, butternut squash, cranberries, gorgonzola, and topped with a slightly acidic apple vinaigrette. The meal checked that night’s required boxes of healthy, fresh, and—with the addition of grilled shrimp—filling. The kitchen made sure that no wilted spinach leaves sneaked past the line, and that the Granny Smith apples were crisp and flavorful. She left not a bite behind, always a good sign.