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They might be goofy: TMBG at the Egg. Photo: Joe Putrock

Rockabilly the Boat
By Erik Hage

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, The Lustre Kings
Captain J.P. Cruise Line, July 14

It was one of those heartbreakingly gorgeous summer eves—rowing crews chugging and huffing down the big old Hudson, the horizon blazing orange—and guitarist Eddie Angel was rocking slightly on the balls of his feet and letting tones rip, from sleazed-out rumble to rippling liquid surf. Some might know Angel, born and raised in Albany, as songwriter- guitarist for Los Straitjackets, the internationally renowned purveyors of surf and rockabilly. Unmasked, he was sitting in with the Lustre Kings, he and head King Mark Gamsjager firing off leads at each other. Rocky Velvet’s Graham Tichy was sitting in as well, playing bass and later firing off a few rounds himself (on Eddie’s guitar)—seems even young guitar masters need to do an occasional apprenticeship.

The ostensible headliner was SoCal’s Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, who were gearing up for an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show the next night. The Lustre Kings stole the show, however. Maybe it was because Mark and the boys had the upper (outside) deck. Maybe it was because it was the 60th birthday of John Tichy (father of Graham, esteemed professor and alumnus of the legendary Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen). More than likely it was just because we happen to have an amazing collective of rock & roll players. (Any town that has both the Lustre Kings and Rocky Velvet is blessed.) Mark Gamsjager is an unparalleled player in his own right—throw Eddie Angel into the equation and you have rockabilly manna from heaven. The Kings and Big Sandy traded off sets, fans moving up and down the stairs every half-hour or so.

All of which is to say that Big Sandy and Co. were pretty incredible themselves. On any other boat they would have been kings. The group’s approach is more cosmopolitan and swing-oriented than the Lustre Kings, and Big Sandy—glowing olive complexion, plump physique, shiny black hair and angelic voice—is a beautiful site to behold. His tighter-than-a-clam’s-ass band, one of the best in the world, can swing like nobody’s business (with Jimmy Roy particularly glowing on pedal steel).

All in all, the event was a sort of like an antithetical Heart of Darkness: As our boat cruised deeper and deeper into the heart of the region, things just got happier and lighter (and a fleeting image of the docked Half Moon brought to mind a whole other boat ride). Swing dancers and jitterbuggers wheeled around the decks. Folks waved and cheered from the lush green shores. (The couple tête-à- têting on the turntable railroad bridge had a bird’s-eye view of the shenanigans and must have caught some golden blasts of sound up in their roost.) Papa Tichy even jumped onstage, ushering in his sixth decade in rocking style. (“My whole world is spinning around!” he cried as the J.P. pulled a yewie to head back north.) It was an amazing night of music: It felt great to be a local music fan.

All-Ages Show

They Might Be Giants, Jed Parish
The Egg, July 18

The Egg, being the unique building it is, has elicited many humorous responses from performers gracing its stages. Moving directly to the top of any compendium of those jokesters is John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, who, near the start of last Friday’s show in the Hart Theatre, remarked, “I can’t believe they stole my design.”

They Might Be Giants are that rare band who appeal to several generations simultaneously, without any of the younger ones being dragged along against their will (“Awww Dad, I don’t wanna see Crosby, Stills & Nash—they’re old fat guys!”). Their CD from last year, No!, was released as a children’s record, but it’s only partially tilted in that direction, with the overall feel being pretty much like any TMBG album. In fact, most of their earlier titles are equally inviting to junior and missy. (“You’re Not the Boss of Me”, aka the theme song to Malcolm in the Middle, put them on the map in a big way a couple years ago, and has no doubt become a number they need to take a break from performing, as witnessed by its absence from the show.)

The duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell now have a 20-plus-year history. They’re a complementary team, with Linnell being the fractured romantic poet and Flansburgh the constantly moving giddy prankster. After spending the ’80s playing to prerecorded backing tracks, they expanded to a full and powerful band, now in the exuberantly capable hands of the “three Dans” on guitar, bass and drums.

The quintet emerged to the bright lights and blaring sounds of “Carmina Burana” and proceeded to play 90 minutes of songs from throughout their career, favoring the last couple albums in particular. The opening strains of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” never cease to induce chills of delight as the band members jump up and down en masse. The Egg is not set up for audiences to jump up and down, making for an odd match of venue and artist, but a night with They Might Be Giants is always better than a night without.

Opener Jed Parish also fronts the band Gravel Pit, and his solo set impressed with songwriting and a big, loud voice. He played his acoustic guitar in a manner which offered more complex arrangements than folk strumming, shifting textures with assuredness and playing eight songs with full-bore intensity.

—David Greenberger

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