Ken Maiuri's Clubland: John Cabán’s music galvanizes at Chez Albert

  • John Cabán and his band Galvanizer play every other Thursday at Chez Albert in Amherst. DOUG TUBACH

Published: 8/31/2016 3:38:33 PM

They’re words you hear from bands who love what they do: “We play a great show whether it’s for 7 people or 700 people.” It was a “7 people” kind of audience last Thursday night at Chez Albert in Amherst, but dedicated guitarist John Cabán and his band Galvanizer could have made 700 happy if given the chance.

Every other Thursday, Cabán and his rhythm section (Donny Hayward on bass and J.J. O’Connell on drums) and special guests play two sets of what he calls “psychedublic funk” from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Their next appearance is next Thursday, Sept. 8.

I stopped in last week to catch some of the band’s second set, ordering a tart lemonade and grabbed a seat next to two arms-crossed guys leaning back on their barstools, watching the band intently.

The trio, with drummer Andrew Atkin filling in for an away O'Connell and special guest Brian Glashow on conga and percussion, were tucked into a corner of the room, playing with laid-back glee. The tune in progress was the band’s theme song, “Galvanizer,” built on a groove as steady as a straight-flying plane, which every-so-often veered into an ominous riff that was more like a divebomb.

Atkin played with a thin towel draped over his snare, not wanting to overpower the room — and in fact Glashow’s 4-year old daughter, Bella, was sleeping through the funky jam in a stroller, about 10 feet from the band. She was watched over by Glashow’s old friend Shanti Starr, who grabbed a piece of percussion called a shekere (a dried gourd covered with a net of beads) to add accents to the song’s big finale.

The cozy vibe in the restaurant was autumnal and fiery — behind the musicians and above the bar, bulbs glowed deep orange within copper light fixtures stenciled with roosters, pigs and cows, while candles around the room flickered warm gold.

“Does anyone in the band need anything?” a member of the friendly waitstaff asked during the between-song quietude.

“Just love,” replied one of the guys, jokingly forlorn.

“FroYo,” quipped another band member.

The last song of the night was “Vic’s Flick,” included on the band’s recent debut recording, “Liftoff,” and dedicated to Vic Flick, the British studio guitarist who played the iconic riff in the James Bond theme. Cabán’s tune had the experimental swirl of jazz fusion mixed with punk and surf music, and while the band rocked out, a pack of dudes powered past the window, hoofing along the center of North Pleasant Street, chowing down on pizza on paper plates.

Galvanizer has been playing Chez Albert every other Thursday night since July 14, and though Cabán said the summer audiences have been, as expected, on the small side during the town’s sleepy season (10 to 20 people on average), the crowds are likely to grow once the swarm of students returns.

Cabán has roots in the area. He grew up in Amherst, lived in Northampton and spent a year playing with Ed Vadas & the Fabulous Heavyweights before he left for Boston, and eventually Brooklyn, for two decades. He and his family (wife, Beth, and son, Kai) moved back to the Valley three years ago so Beth could study nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

When Cabán ran into Chez Albert owner/manager and old acquaintance Amy Paul at a Galvanizer gig in Northampton this past spring, the plan was hatched for him to bring his band to the restaurant for a residency.

Paul was inspired by the venture enough to borrow Cabán’s old drink idea from when he lived/played on Martha’s Vineyard (Mount Gay rum, ginger beer, fresh mint and soda water, which he called “UpIsland Ice Tea”) and rename it “The Galvanizer,” making it a funk night drink special.

Cabán regularly plays a Silvertone electric guitar (a 1457 model made in 1964). “It's a total mojo machine. Best all-around guitar for what I like to do,” he said.

And what he loves to do is blend together psychedelic rock, funk, blues, surf, dub and “other worldly influences,” he said. “I write tunes from a melodic and groove-oriented place that hopefully sticks in people’s ears. Leaving much room to improvise and create.”

Galvanizer plays every other Thursday at Chez Albert in Amherst from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Their remaining 2016 shows will be on Sept. 8 and 24, Oct. 6 and 20, Nov. 3 and 17 and Dec. 1, 15 and 29.

For more information and music samples from the new album “Liftoff,” visit

Ken Maiuri can be reached at

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