Springing from the fertile grounds of Boston’s parochial hardcore punk-rock scene, Moving Targets are a little-known but seminal link in a chain that joins hardcore and other early-’80s Boston music strains like collegiate art rock and folk-rock to ’90s alternative rock. Forming in 1981 around the songwriting, blistering guitar work, and emotive vocals of Kenny Chambers, the original power trio included bassist/vocalist Pat Leonard and the strong-man drumming of Pat Brady. After a few years of trying to scrape together gigs in the competitive early-’80s Boston rock club scene, Moving Targets’ first significant exposure came in 1984 via Bands That Could Be God (Conflict/Radiobeat), a record of various Massachusetts punk and post-punk bands compiled by Gerard Cosloy, the soon-to-be head of the Homestead and Matador record labels. The LP included three songs recorded with Lou Giordano, one of the founding producers of Boston’s legendary Fort Apache studio. Giordano had worked with the influential Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü, who were clearly a major influence for the Targets. Working with Giordano, the band continued to record, eventually finishing a 15-song demo, which led to their signing to the Boston punk label Taang! (which is also responsible for unleashing Lemonheads and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the rock world). These demo songs form the basis of the band’s explosive debut LP, Burning in Water, from 1986. The album is an essential piece of post-punk, combining the band’s love of hardcore, ’70s progressive rock, and classic rock. It openly showed the influences of seminal art-punk-rock group Mission of Burma — a Boston band also capable of punk anthems — as well as another Burma-influenced group, Hüsker Dü, who released their legendary LP New Day Rising the same year as Burning in Water. Moving Targets learned a great deal from the 1984 Hüsker Dü record Zen Arcade and seem to almost anticipate New Day Rising, latching onto many of the same ideas on Burning in Water: combining the urgent energy and aggression of punk with the understanding and reverence for more traditional forms of music. The Targets do not come off merely as imitators; they are eager students who have digested various influences and end up sounding like none of them specifically. Burning in Water is its own beast, moving punk-rock songcraft into another class. While akin to Hüsker Dü’s output, the Targets possessed a distinctive and decidedly Boston flair. The LP announced the arrival of an influential band. Any mid-’80s underground rock & roll band in Massachusetts would have been affected by its release and the LP also resonated overseas, where the band toured to some success. Moving Targets were devastating in a live setting. The original lineup was the best and most magical. Chambers shredded the guitar and his vocal cords on highly crafted songs. Brady proved to be an untouchable drummer, fitting fills, rolls, and crashes into impossibly tight corners like a punk-rock Keith Moon or Neil Pert. Bassist/vocalist Leonard showed an unusual melodic sense on the bass, somehow managing to keep up with the incendiary performances of his partners, while never sounding hurried and rarely approaching the bass like a guitar, unlike some power-trio bass players. Alas, the volatile lineup was not meant to last, and was soon fractured. The disarray sidetracked the group and Chambers acted as a second guitarist for a few years with one of the first punk metal bands Bullet Lavolta. All the while, Chambers continued to write for Moving Targets. Bassist Chuck Freeman entered the fray as Leonard’s replacement, the two sharing the workload for the band’s follow-up LP, Brave New Noise, released in 1989. The CD version of the record includes Burning in Water, making the collection a slam-dunk for fans of intelligent melodic post-punk. The sound of Fall is a bit more polished, textured, evenly paced, and varied than Burning in Water/Brave Noise, in other words: a somewhat predictable pattern for the band to follow. They parallel Hüsker Dü’s development into pop-punk and folk-punk territory, shedding a bit of the more overt Burma influences and displaying some of the more mainstream hard rock guitar work that Chambers had practiced over the intervening years with Bullet Lavolta. But the changes are mostly welcome signs of growth and the songs are rewarding. That trend continued with 1993’s Take This Ride, though this time the lineup had been stripped down to just Chambers as the only remaining founding member. He rounded the group out with Jeff Goddard on bass and Jamie Van Bramer on drums, two members of Boston band Jones Very. The band was simply not the same, missing Brady’s pummeling drums in particular. The group now resembled a Chambers solo project, and indeed he did release some solo recordings: Double Negative in 1990 on European label Cityslang (featuring Goddard); No Reaction, which was recorded in 1993 and released in 1994; and 1996’s Sin Cigarros.
The Targets played two local shows, in 1999 and early 2000. Afterwards, Pat brady and Chuck Freeman laid low musically, while Kenny Chambers played with the band American Pulverizer, featuring Two Saints guitarist Marky Mussel. In early 2007, the band unexpectedly re-grouped to play a handful of shows, and do a little recording. After two warm up shows, an aborted 3 song recording session with Glenn Brown (Sin Cigaros, No Reaction), and a pre-recorded live radio broadcast for WMBR’s Pipeline show, The guys were invited to open for old friends Buffalo Tom in Boston and New York. The band proved that there was still ample fire in the engine. Sadly, these were the last shows the band ever played. Chambers moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2007 to pursue other interests, and friends and family were shocked with the news of original member Pat Leonard’s death in November 2008. Pat Brady’s untimely passing of a heart attack the following June took two of the greatest musicians and sweetest human beings from the planet, and effectively ended the band forever.
Chuck Freeman has been adding his razor guitar to the
superpop/arena rock stylings of the Doom Buggies.
Kenny Chambers is persuing a solo career.