Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams ~ 2009 November 13 ~ Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA
A concert that changed my life.
Band personnel: Joziah Longo (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, mandolin); Sharkey McEwen (backing vocals, guitar, mandolin); Tony Zuzulo (drums); Tink Lloyd (backing vocals, accordion, cello, flute, theremin, percussion); Orion Longo (backing vocals, bass, keyboards, harmonica)
I had definitely noticed their name in concert listings before this. Who could forget a band name like that? Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. There's no one named Gandalf, and no one named Murphy, in this family band.
We were up at the Bull Run in Shirley, Mass., a few weeks ago to see Graham Parker. The Circus (as the band are known for short) have played there, and Steve, the soundman/announcer at the Bull, praised them highly. We like that guy's taste, since the venue so often books bands and performers we love; so that was a good recommendation right there.
So when we saw that the Circus were on the Narrows concert schedule, we were interested. We've seen quite a few concerts over the past few years at the Narrows and we like the venue. It's nonprofit, run by volunteers, and you can bring your own food. We did some Youtube research and they looked interesting, so we sent off for tickets.
Although the Youtube videos we watched seemed interesting and we were intrigued, we weren't sure what to expect. We didn't expect them to be the greatest band in the world.
The Circus are led by Joziah Longo, songwriter, lead singer, and quite an accomplished guitar and mandolin player. His stage presence draws us in; pleasant, sincere, lighthearted and quite a bit goofy. He tells stories and shares both his generous philosophy of life and a wacky but agreeable view of reality. He wears a black bowler hat, black hair, and a scraggly beard. He's tall, and wears a coat with long tails. He has a look -- and a personality to match. His body language is endearing, as he sometimes stands pigeon-toed while playing his guitar.
The rest of the band are equally important to the concert. They all have distinct personalities and play a variety of instruments, splendidly. Joziah's wife Tink Lloyd is the multi-instrumentalist. She plays a cello; she plays an accordion; she plays a flute; she plays percussion; she plays a theramin. A theramin! That's that Russian thing that you play by waving your hands in front of it, that was made famous by the song "Good Vibrations." Tink's hands swoop up and down and around the thing on a song called "Flapjacks From the Sky" creating a very spacy atmosphere for the song. Tink dresses in a really attractive, thoughtfully put together combo of striped tights, a checkered skirt, a jacket and a scarf.
The drummer, Tony Zuzulo, is a wild man. This is not a folk band! He plays with intensity and power; and looks like a modern day Rasputin.
Over next to Tony is the youngest member of the band, Joziah and Tink's son Orien who plays keyboards and bass, sometimes on the same song.
Next to Joziah on the front line is Sharkey McEwen, guitarist, backing vocalist, and mandolin player. A very accomplished player, with beautiful long wavy hair giving him a great rock 'n' roll look, he also seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself on stage. As I mentioned this is not a folk band. Since this is a rock band, the lead guitarist becomes key to the music. He plays several different guitars with fluidity and ease, the kind of player who makes it seem effortless.
The band takes an intermission (apparently a regular part of their routine) and during the break a couple of concert goers take a paper towel and write a song request on it, and put it where Joziah sees it at the start of the second set. The song request is "Glide." When the band takes the stage for the second set, they point out their request to Joziah, who misreads it and thinks it said "Glad," and breaks into an improvised version of the Cream song "I'm So Glad." The concert goers correct him, and good sport that he is, the band play "Glide" (one of their own songs) even though Orien doesn't know it and has to get some quick coaching from Sharkey.
I am really digging this band, thinking how good their stage look is, how interesting their philosophy is, how great their songs are, and then ... and then they play a song called "Tink (I Know It's You)" and Sharkey McEwen plays a rockin' solo with a slide ... on the mandolin. He makes that mandolin wail.
I have seen a lot of concerts, and I've seen a lot of great guitar players. But I have never seen anyone do what Sharkey McEwen did with that beautiful mandolin. In the hands of a master player, a folk instrument becomes the purveyor of a really great rock solo. If there was any resistance to falling in love with the Circus up to that moment, that slide mandolin solo broke my resistance, and I fell, willingly, into the state of mind called Slambovia.
At the end of the show, Concert Going Partner and I turned to each other: "Wow .... was that a great show, or what????"
It's worth mentioning that this is a band with a serious fan following. Several people had umbrellas and parasols that they deployed during a song called "Alice in Space." Joziah said that when his mother first heard the song, she said it reminded her of a mummer's tune, the Mummers Parade being the big deal New Year's Day celebration in Philadelphia where Joziah grew up. And because of this, the Circus fans follow the mummers' tradition of parasols during that particular song.
An unexpected bonus was the friendliness and accessibility of the musicians. We talked to each of them after the show, and they came across as really genuine people. There is a Slambovian philosophy; and it imbues each member of this band.
I did not keep a set list since I was not familiar with their catalog, but besides "Tink (I Know It's You)" another real highlight was a song they said is new for them, with the title of "Trans-Slambovian BiPolar Express."
We are confident we'll be seeing this band again.
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