First of all, I have to explain the Roxy to you. It’s very purple. Yeah, purple. Dark, too. Dark and purple. Which could only mean one thing: a Euro dance club! Yikes, is that carpeting!!?? I was half-expecting to see someone wearing a sequin suit or everybody walking around with glow-in-the-dark drinks. Hell, Prince played here a month or two ago! My sneaking suspicion was that this place housed these two bands for the evening because of the wooden dance floor in front of the stage — both bands were just meant for moving and grooving, and shaking your booty (I’m trying out some of the Euro lingo, too).
The Cigar Store Indians were first, and proved to be one of the most exciting, fresh, pop/rockabilly bands of recent years. Lead singer Ben Friedman plays right to the crowd, doing everything but laying down cold hard cash to try and get people to move. He shakes, he slithers, he strips, he claps, he sashes and, oh yeah, he’s a damn fine singer and guitar player, too. It took this Boston crowd three or four songs before they caught on to how good these guys were — that’s light speed for Boston music fans, by the way, who were there to see the headliners. The tune that got the crowd going was “Jailbait”, a traditional rockabilly shaker that had all the fixin’s: a heavy thumping bass, a steady drumbeat, and a jangly guitar, all moving furiously together.
By the last song of the set, the brilliant “Mother of the Bride”, the crowd was hootin’ and hollerin’ and screaming and clapping for more. By this time, Friedman had already joined the crowd for a dance, taken off his suit jacket and twirled it around, knocked over the mike stand, and, for the last minute of the song, thrashed like a punk rocker about the stage, guitar on the floor, while the band cooked. It was tremendous, pure fun. No soul-searching, no deep thoughts, no nothing. Pure, fuel-injected fun.
After about an hour wait (no doubt to entice the kids into buying those $5 drinks), the Squirrel Nut Zippers took the stage and proceeded to blow the roof off the sold-out Roxy in an entirely different manner. The eight-piece band played their brand of revved up ragtime music, employing all kinds of instruments — clarinets, saxophones, banjos, steel, trombone, kitchen sink, etc., to create a sound nearly all their own.
At least half the place was decked out in ’20s or ’30s garb, some right down to the top hats. While the Zippers ripped through their set, nearly everybody was moving, dancing, jerking around. This band doesn’t seem to be about particular songs, but rather about finding a groove, whether it be through the glorious, gorgeous lounge-ly voice of Katherine Whalen (get that voice insured, honey, it’s gold!) or the zany, energetic antics of Jim Mathus and Tom Maxwell.
The encouraging thing about this evening was that the same people who enjoyed the pop sensibilities and rockabilly of the Cigar Store Indians also went ballistic for an eight-piece ragtime band. More shows like this one, and I’ll start feeling really good about the future of music.