Clubland roundup: Johnny Memphis’ Flo-Ho-Ho, Scott Hall and The Mommyheads

  • Beige, led by Steve Westfield (on guitar), performs last weekend at Flo-Ho-Ho at the Florence VFW. Photo by Ken Maiuri

  • Beige, led by Steve Westfield (on guitar), performs last weekend at Flo-Ho-Ho at the Florence VFW. Photo by Ken Maiuri

Published: 12/19/2018 4:19:24 PM

‘Twas ten nights before Christmas, and all through the town, not a creature was stirring — but hark, what’s that sound? The Florence VFW’s upstairs was aglow with Johnny Memphis’ merry Flo-Ho-Ho.

It’s a yearly get-together of his musical friends, with live bands and karaoke; all ages can attend. This past Saturday, Memphis put his own group on the stage, along with Raymond and the Circle, Free Range Cats, and Beige. Connolly Ryan improvised some poems (as off-the-wall as you’d expect, if you know him). Bell & Howl helped create a psychedelic ball, projecting quirky film footage all over the wall.

The Johnny Memphis Band played rootsy rock and roll, with fiddle and mandolin and Northampton soul. And at the front table, to get a good view, sat Terry Adams, founder of NRBQ. Memphis was all smiles and bright exclamations, his bass laying down some groovy percolations.

Beige became the dance-floor-fillers of the night, with a loopy ska groove that felt just right. Steve Westfield led the band, which has sax, trombone and a sense of ordered chaos that’s truly his own. His daughter Mary harmonized on something rad — a bubbling cover of “Camille” by Cordelia’s Dad.

Raymond and the Circle’s set was worth the wait, his first live performance since 2008. The enigmatic performer didn’t do his hits, instead showcasing some seasonal bits. He took Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” and rewrote the words so they were all about Santa Claus — hard rock and absurd. He sang the lyrics of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to the tune of “O Holy Night,” which resulted in cheers.

The triumphant feat was oddly moving, and the superfans gathered down front were approving.

Free Range Cats made music nerds swoon with their inspired chops and surprising choice of tunes. They opened their set with “Let’s Write a Book,” using the funky Field Music song to prove they could cook. They jammed and then caused Beach Boys fans to smile, since their next song was “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” a symphonic Brian Wilson piece that tugs at the heart, a wistful cinematic work of art.

The quintet brought up Frank Padellaro to sing a Van Morrison classic full of grit and swing, “The Way Young Lovers Do,” in 6/8 time, and his fervent rendition was something sublime. The Cats jammed on some jazz and were asked to play more, and a couple lucky latecomers caught the encore. It was a fun community night, and just before the finale, Steve Westfield summed it up in three words: “What a Valley.”

The grooves echoed across Main Street as we split the scene; Flo-Ho-Ho was a blast: see you in 2019!

 ***

Earlier on Saturday, pianist/singer/songwriter Scott Hall entertained a cozy gathering at The 413 Bar in Easthampton with a Christmas show of his own. Dressed smartly in a white dress shirt and red holiday tie, he lugged in and set up his electronic piano and PA speakers and tickled the plastic ivories, singing everything from “Mele Kalikimaka” to John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and a rock block of tunes from his cherished “John Denver and the Muppets” Christmas special.

He also invited Miranda Brown up for a duet on Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” and assigned audience members parts for a crowd participation version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The bartender poured some complimentary pretzels into a glass on the bar, the sun went down, and the festive crowd continued to grow and glow.

 ***

Also noted: The Glad Machine and The Mommyheads play the Iron Horse in Northampton tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. The former is a local rock foursome (vocalist Brad Thayer, guitarist Greg Saulmon, bassist Neal Robinson and drummer Mike Franklin) with a self-titled, full-length debut album out now. The latter is a big-in-Sweden but NYC-based melodic indie quartet that’s been shape-shifting for 30 years, with playful homemade 4-track recordings, smartly arranged pop (XTC, Captain Beefheart, The Band), funk jams, bluesy soul-rock and progressive rhythms.

The Mommyheads haven’t played Northampton since 1996, but they have a brand-new album out, “Soundtrack to the World’s End,” so they’re making the trek.  

 




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