Ex-pat pop

KurtBaker2When Kurt Baker toured with his punk pop band The Leftovers, and as a solo act beginning in 2010, one luxury he always allowed was satellite radio in the rental van. It stayed locked on a single station,Underground Garage, packed with bands  that inspired them like Ramones, Blondie and The Plimsouls, along with up and coming acts.

“For us it was awesome,” Baker said in a recent Skype interview from his home in Madrid, Spain. “There were great DJs on there and great garage rock, both new and old stuff.”

His bandmate Geoff Palmer one day decided to send the station a single by his band, The Connection. To his delight, their cover of the 1956 Moon Mullican hit “Seven Nights to Rock” was named a weekly Coolest Song in the World. When Underground Garage creator Steven Van Zandt asked Palmer if he knew any other good bands, he pointed them to Baker.

Baker subsequently racked up multiple Coolest Song wins, on his own and with The New Trocaderos, his side project with Palmer and  Brad Marino, also of The Connection. Last year, Van Zandt signed him to Wicked Cool Records and released Baker’s latest album, In Orbit.

Inconveniently, satellite success happened right around the time Baker moved overseas. He’d grown weary of the withering punk pop scene in his home base of Portland, Maine, and its sharp contrast to to the energy he’d found in Europe. “It was a buzzkill to come back; finally, I decided to see about living in Spain, see if I could do it.,” Baker said. “I had enough money for a few months, but it really worked out …  there are a lot more opportunities for my style of music, and a culture for it that feels really comfortable.”

Initially, Baker was a troubadour, accompanying himself on guitar. Then offers to play summer festivals started to arrive, and he recruited three natives and has kept busy ever since. For a guy whose motto is “have a good time, all the time,” it’s a perfect situation. There’s something about Spain,” he said. “There’s just a huge appreciation for rock and roll, power pop and garage rock.”

He’s returned home to visit family and play an occasional solo gig, but the new record has given Baker the chance to tour with a full band for the first time since 2013. A March 23 show at Dover Brickhouse includes his band Kurt Baker Combo, The Connection, label mate Soraia, and 90s legends Watts, now with Tim McCoy of Heavens to Murgatroid’s on bass.

“Tim has helped us out many times back when I was living in Portland; he helped set up shows and we’d go down,” Baker said “We’re friends, and we’ve had a lot of fun together in the past, so I’m really looking forward to playing with him and seeing those guys.”

What promises to be one of best rock shows to hit the region in years is the second stop on a tour that stops in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee (home to Baker’s favorite basketball team) and Washington, D.C. The two-week run wraps up in Boston on April 7, with a show at Allston’s O’Brien’s Pub.

The busy schedule leaves Baker little room for other work, so studio time with The New Trocaderos will have to wait for another visit. “There is word of maybe doing a new record in the future, so who knows? It’s a fun project,” he said. “We’re kind of like this New England Rockpile – Geoff, Brad, Kris Rogers and I have always played together, and we’re always in each other’s bands.”

Conceived by Los Angeles songwriter and producer Mike Chaney, the supergroup has released one album – 2015’s Thrills & Chills – and three EPs and the single that launched the project, “Money Talks” backed with “The Kids” – both written by Chaney. Along with longtime Seacoast cohort Rogers, the band includes drummer Rick Orcutt.

What keeps it fun for Baker? “I really love playing live and seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they’re listening to rock and roll and having a good time, also meeting people and visiting new places,” he said. “The Combo’s been touring a lot this year, we’ve been to Sweden, Austria, Germany … that’s what keeps interesting, to be able to tour and play. I feel fortunate to be able to do this. As long as I can still do it, I will.”

Kurt Baker Combo, Soraia, The Connection and Watts

Where: Dover Brickhouse, 2 Orchard St., Dover

When: Thursday, March. 23, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $7/cover – see bit.ly/2nqwJzl

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