Clubland: Loser’s Lounge leaves happy audiences in their wake
Kermit the Frog is famous for many things — like spastically and enthusiastically waving his gangly green arms around with a “Yaaaay!” Muppets fans might find themselves having a similar reaction to the Loser’s Lounge tribute to the music of The Muppets, an all-ages show at Mass MoCA in North Adams Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Loser’s Lounge is a beloved gang of talented musicians based in New York City, led by keyboardist and musical director Joe McGinty, an in-demand player who spent years performing with The Psychedelic Furs and has worked with artists like The Ramones and Ryan Adams, the kind of true-blue music fan whose living space is packed with records and unique instruments.
His concept started nearly 20 years ago as a piano-bar night with his friend Nick Danger; the twosome performed a repertoire of ’70s songs “you’re embarrassed to like. We wanted it to be a place where the ‘losers’ could hang out and be comfortable, not the high rollers, not the big spenders,” McGinty said. Soon friends were jumping up to be guest vocalists and the event grew in popularity, moving on to bigger venues. “It’s become its own little weird institution,” he said.
Since 1993 the collective has put on regular tribute shows for its favorite artists and songwriters — including ABBA, Burt Bacharach, David Bowie, Neil Diamond, Carole King, Dolly Parton, Prince, Queen, Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder and more than 40 others — and The Muppets are the latest to shine in the group’s spotlight.
Mass MoCA’s website calls the show a “Kid’s Event” and it will be full of funny and/or timeless songs from “The Muppet Movie” like “Movin’ Right Along” and “Rainbow Connection” — but you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy such compositions full of wit, heart and songcraft, written by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams. Those two men took the stage as guest stars at a 2001 Loser’s Lounge performance, when the tribute group dedicated the night to Williams himself.
That’s the level of respect McGinty and his longtime house band, The Kustard Kings, have achieved over the years with their loving and inspired tributes — famous performers, including Ronnie Spector, Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants and many more, often stop by and take the microphone for a song.
The Loser’s Lounge Muppets tribute won’t be limited to songs from the original 1979 movie — it’s reported to include rarities from the original run of “The Muppet Show” TV series (1976-1981) as well as a tune or two from the 2011 reboot/update film “The Muppets.”
“I think if you’re in a certain age group, you definitely grew up loving them,” McGinty told a Brooklyn publication earlier this year. “I consider myself a fan, the original movie is still a classic.” A documentary was in the works about The Loser’s Lounge but remains unfinished, according to YouTube clips. Maybe there wasn’t enough conflict in the group’s history to make a full-length film? McGinty and company’s story could be summed up thusly: “Super-nice hard-working musician is joined by super-nice hard-working musician friends to put on highly entertaining tributes to popular artists, leaving a trail of happy audiences in their wake, show after show, year after year.” That might not make the most edge-of-your-seat film, but it’s the perfect recipe for a great afternoon of fun and memorable music, Muppets style.