Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Beatles tunes and Irish F-bombs

  • Pugwash

Published: 9/28/2016 3:27:17 PM

Dubliner Thomas Walsh is a real pro with a catchy tune — and also with a particular four-letter word that begins with F. His expertise in both Beatlesque pop music and colorful language was on full display when his band Pugwash played the Iron Horse Tuesday for an audience of about 60.

It was the Irish quartet’s fourth visit to an IHEG venue in the past two years and they’re building a fervent fanbase in Northampton. The band got two standing ovations (and public kudos from owner Eric Suher, who took to the soundboard microphone to praise the band, wish the place was sold-out, and urge everyone to bring along their friends next time Pugwash returns).

The band arrived onstage, just four regular guys dressed in black — Walsh on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Tosh Flood on lead guitar and backing vocals, Shaun McGee on bass and backing vocals and Joe Fitzgerald on drums — but the front of their bass drum head was the tip-off for the bright pop to come. It was decorated with a colorful splash of cartoon psychedelia, with yellow faces in profile surrounded by purple sunsets and orange-red fields.

Pugwash’s catchy pop is inspired by The Beatles, The Kinks and all the UK bands who followed that path — ELO, XTC, even Oasis. Melody are of utmost importance. Even Flood’s guitar solos were melodic ideas, not the usual bluesy wankery.

“It’s Nice To Be Nice” and “Answers On a Postcard” shared the same light psychedelic swing-stomp as “Penny Lane” (and the latter even had a hint of the music-hall vaudeville of The Kinks’ “Autumn Almanac”).

“Cluster Bomb,” a moodier song with a gorgeous bridge section, employed some pre-recorded backing tracks to add symphonic heft to the band’s already strong sound, including harpsichord and a string quartet.

If for some reason Pugwash’s love of The Beatles wasn’t obvious in their original songs, in between the proper tunes, they doodled on other Fab Four-related stuff, like the bass line to “Day Tripper” or a tidbit of the McCartney obscurity “Hey Diddle.”

Pugwash’s songs showed a real interest in craft, and the brightest concert highlight for these ears was “Be My Friend Awhile” with its simple yet just-right melody, full harmonies and carefully placed diminished chord. All the tightly woven elements created an impressive and emotionally affecting sonic superstructure.

In between the top tunes, Walsh and friends engaged in some thick-accented and drily funny banter. It felt like being in a tour van with the band, full of in-jokes, salty humor and gentle ribbing ricocheting around the stage between the three men up front.

“This next song was number one in Ireland, and since there’s no Irish people here, you can’t deny it,” Walsh joked during the intro to “Finer Things In Life.”

He then acknowledged that, actually, there were some Irish friends in the room: members of The High Kings, a fellow Dublin band, in town early to play the Horse on the following night.

Walsh used the situation to improvise more self-depreciating humor. He told the crowd that the High Kings made proper music, unlike Pugwash. “None of this bollocks,” he said with jollity, motioning at his guitar. “Songs about friends and fookin’ apples.” (Indeed, the next song Pugwash played was titled “Apples.”)

With the first U.S. presidential debate not far away in the rearview mirror, Donald Trump was on the Dubliners’ minds. Their disgust with Trump was a topic to which they kept returning. “He couldn’t run a bath,” McGee spat.

Pugwash’s heaviest song of the night was “Anyone Who Asks,” which was used in the 2008 film “Pride and Glory,” as Walsh explained. He began rattling off the movie’s stars – “Colin Farrell. And Jon Voight. Edward Norton.” — and he and his bandmates extended the supposed cast to surreal lengths, taking turns adding names as the crowd’s titters built into waves of laughter.

“Dolly Parton.”

“Kermit the Frog.”

“Stephanie Zimbalist.”

“Zigaboo Modeliste.”

“Phil Donahue.”


“Judge Judith Sheindlin.”

“Pierce Brosnan ... that fooker’s in everything.”

The band played a three-song “encore” (Walsh grinned and said they weren’t going to bother to leave the stage) that included their hooky early hit “Monorail.”

As Walsh was announcing their final number, he saw a woman heading toward the exit and couldn’t help but ask why she was leaving with just one last tune to go. “The babysitter!” she shouted back with a smile.

Flood had a solution: “We’ll play it loud enough so you can hear us goin’ up the road.”

The opening act

Local singer/songwriter Rick Murnane started off the night with a nine-song solo acoustic set — in fact he’s opened all of Pugwash’s Northampton shows and is a big fan, having befriended them online long ago. He gushed to the crowd: “They’re one of my favorite bands anywhere, ever, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Murnane played some new songs, including the sunshiney stomp “Goodbye Lonely Times” from his “Last Fridays” project (he’s promised to record and release one new song at the end of every month, available on his website), plus material from his earlier full-length albums, like the show-opening power-poppy “Maybe the Girl” from his 2012 CD, “Wednesday Child.” He even snuck in a cover of The Who’s “Drowned.”

Longtime fans (like this writer) got to hear Murnane play two of the best songs from the early days of his old band, Group DeVille, the super-catchy double-shot of “Downtown Ladies” and “You Don’t Need Him Anymore.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.




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