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Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Into the groovy fray with the Mal Thursday Quintet

  • The Mal Thursday Quintet, affectionately known as the MT5. Ken Maiuri

  • The MT5 Chris Archambeau


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“Don’t mess with cupid, Ken Maiuri!”
Mal Thursday, a true believer in the power of garage rock, was preaching mid-song in the well-attended back room of the Sierra Grille last Thursday night. I guess since I was in plain view down front (where else can a short guy stand in a crowd and still see the band?), Thursday worked me into his sermon for a sec.

He was singing a gritty Otis Redding B-side from 1966, wearing his trademark sunglasses and a self-referential T-shirt, full of the same spirit he had in his Valley days when he led such groups as The Malarians (in the ‘80s) and The Cheetahs (in the ‘90s).

Thursday flicked his arms up to the ceiling and out like a funky strutting bird. He wailed on his harmonica. He spat out lyrics with an ornery drawl and a sneer. He peppered his banter with love for his onetime home: “This is the Commonwealth, bay-behs.” “This is Massachusetts and I salute thee.”

The Sierra Grille address once held the Bay State Hotel, the place where Thursday created a Northampton scene in the ‘90s, booking indie bands from around the world to play what was then a homey and strange wallpapered bar/restaurant. (During the show he chummily chided anyone who spelled it as The Baystate, like in the decorations on the wall behind him: “It’s two words, people.”)

Thursday has lived in Austin, Texas, for over a decade and he last performed in Northampton in 2010. But late on Thursday night he leaped once more into the groovy fray, flanked on the front lines by former band members — keyboard/percussion man Bob Medley (The Malarians) and ripping lead guitar player Frank Padellaro (The Cheetahs) — and supported by guitarist Greg Saulmon, bassist Patrick Timmons and drummer Brian Marchese.

He called the six-man band “The Mal Thursday Quintet,” though late in the show he truncated the name and triumphantly announced the musicians around him as “The MT5.”

The band began the set sans Mal, launching into the epic “Rumble,” a tough and swaggering Link Wray instrumental (and the Cheetahs’ longtime opening theme), as people swarmed into the room. Lead guitarist Frank Padellaro doubled as emcee, introducing Thursday with crowd-revving fanfare.

“Filthy Rich” (recorded in 1967 by the Dutch band The Outsiders) was an early highlight, with Thursday jittering in place and doing manic handclaps during the song’s off-kilter hook.

The MT5’s set list doubled as a history lesson in forgotten gems, like “I’ve Changed My Address” by The Jam, “99th Floor” by The Moving Sidewalks (a band whose lineup included a pre-ZZ Top Billy Gibbons), “That’s Your Problem” (another slamming Outsiders tune) and of course the deep Otis Redding cut “Don’t Mess With Cupid” — or as Thursday said, “The cherub with the arrows of Eros.”

He included some of his best originals in the set, like the shout-along “Torn Up” and the climactic “Get Outta Dallas.” Padellaro, who’s been playing acoustic guitar as of late in his own band King Radio, soloed the snot out of his sparkly silver electric guitar, bending the strings and contorting his own body for maximum rock. On the other side of the stage area, Mr. Medley shook a tambourine with a smile.

As last call rolled around, Thursday announced, “We’ve come to the end of the perilous journey” (But he snuck in two extra songs anyway).

Also on the bill were The Immolators, with vocalist/bassist Liv Damage leading the charge on punky originals like “Prior Commitment” (one lyric that jumped out of the thunder: “the boss is a jerk”) and the set-opening instrumental “Immolation.”

Eric Gaffney’s guitar/bass/drums trio Chicopee Moose Project started off the night and filled their set with rocking and often musically unrecognizable covers of songs like “Janitor” by the Suburban Lawns, and “Drive Me Wild” by Vanity 6 (written by Prince).

“No Telling Why” was a Gaffney original with a surf beat, and like most every song of their set, it started on sure feet, included a wild distorted guitar solo from the frontman, and then petered out before it had outstayed its welcome. I thought I overheard someone in the band say they hadn’t rehearsed at all, and the result was an enjoyable in-the-moment rock-and-roll high wire act in which the group kept tumbling down happily into the safety net.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com