In the mid-'60s, Memphis' Box Tops, like their transatlantic cousins the Who, were busy translating the Motown influences of the day into blue-eyed rock 'n' soul. Their biggest hits were "Cry Like a Baby" and the oft-covered classic "The Letter"--songs that combined a dose of mod-style pop with R&B; undercurrents and a hint of country twang.
When the Box Tops broke up in 1970, singer Alex Chilton went on to join Big Star, a forerunner of the distinctive power-pop later realized by groups such as R.E.M. and the Replacements.
Considering their lively legacy, the Box Tops' reunion--the first featuring all five original members in 30 years--at the House of Blues on Friday was rather anticlimactic. The quintet, unnecessarily augmented by a two-man horn section and a couple of female backing singers, sounded disappointingly rusty and unfocused, though it did pull its act together on a few occasions--notably "Choo Choo Train," "Neon Rainbow" and "The Letter."
During the course of the evening it was easy to see why Chilton has become something of a cult figure over the years--his inspiration for being onstage might have been vague, but his charisma wasn't. Cracking topical jokes and pulling punked-out James Brown-style stage moves, Chilton managed to keep things interesting for the modest crowd, whether he was genuinely caught up in its warm nostalgia vibe or simply mocking it.