The Sinclair marquee for Karate's second show on Thursday, July 7, 2022.

Over the years, I’ve counted the Boston band Karate as my favorite band. But I never got to see them live. That is, until this week.


A brief history: Karate is an indie rock band, formed in Boston in 1993. They started out as a trio, with Geoff Farina handling guitar and vocals, Eammon Vitt on bass, and Gavin McCarthy on drums. Bassist Jeff Goddard joined the band in 1995, so Vitt moved to second guitar with occasional vocal duties. When Vitt left the band in 1997, Farina, Goddard, and McCarthy continued as a trio until issues with Farina’s hearing forced the band to break up in 2005.


I first heard Karate on a Darla Records sampler in the spring of 1996. The song was “What Is Sleep?” from their self-titled debut released that same year. It quickly became part of the rotation on my college radio show at Northeastern’s WRBB that summer. I took advantage of the station’s music library to dig up any Karate music I could find. This pattern would repeat for years to come, both as a DJ at WRBB and an intern-then-DJ at WFNX. As the years rolled on, Karate became my favorite band and their music became a mainstay on the air, in my car, in my bedroom. The songs transcended just tracks on a disc and became dear friends, and they’ve stayed that way ever since.


Karate’s music encompasses both a range of genres and emotions. Their earlier songs could be classified as post-rock or post-hardcore with some emo-leanings. Jazz sounds crept into the mix later on, which makes sense given the musical abilities of the band’s members: Farina’s effortlessly clean and melodic leads, Goddard’s loose-yet-tight walking bass lines, and McCarthy’s dynamic gifts as a timekeeper. Karate’s songs evolve in sound and structure, texture and emotion. Throughout my adult life as a college student, a husband, a parent, and a partner, that evolution has so often mirrored my own.


Despite their Boston home base and constant penchant for playing out, I never caught Karate live. I’d like to say I took full advantage of my access to Boston’s live music scene in the mid-to-late-’90s, but truth be told, I missed out on a lot. If the choice was between a night out in a crowded club or a night in the studio, playing songs on the radio or making live-to-tape mixes, I’d usually choose the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I love live music and took in my fair share of gigs from that storied Boston era. But I was timid at times, and preferred to keep my own company. That’s probably why Karate resonated with me so deeply.


Last year, Chicago-based record label The Numero Group announced they’d be reissuing Karate’s entire catalog. The fan response was so overwhelming that the band decided to reunite for a short tour. They kicked things off at The Sinclair in Cambridge with back-to-back shows on Wednesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 7. I attended both and, truth be told, I’m still processing the experience. Here I am, seeing a band I thought I’d never see live. There they are, on stage, shaping the sounds of every musical genre I love with exceptional talent and care. 20-year-old Adam 12 feels almost vindicated: finally, I’m seeing Karate, my favorite band. 45-year-old Adam 12 feels a quarter-century of emotions: swelling then crashing then ebbing into release.


I’ve written five paragraphs and could probably write five more and still not capture the feeling. I guess it boils down to the same feeling Farina expressed from the stage at the end of last night’s set: gratitude. I’m grateful for Karate and their music. I’m grateful for the moment we shared. I’ve shared some photos below.


And I’d like to share a few more words, too. I’m typing these ones a year later–July 2023–as I’ve had the good fortune to see Karate again. Earlier this year, they were announced as a headliner at NICE, a fest. They kicked off the local festival at Crystal Ballroom in Somerville last night. And I’m happy to report the good vibes from last year’s show carried over to this year.


I even ran into a few people I’d seen at the July 2022 shows. The setlist wasn’t as ambitious as last year, as Eammon Vitt wasn’t in the mix this time around. But the performance was even stronger now that the band has a year of gigging again under their collective belt. As Geoff Farina sings in “Bass Sounds:” “An image, a sound, they are one in the same. Just one likes to move and one stays the same.” Karate are the sound in motion. But they’re also the image: the quality and heart of their live set stays the same.

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