Slambovian Circus of Dreams ~ 2017 December 9 ~ Iron Horse Music Hall ~ Northampton, MA
Band Personnel: Joziah Longo, lead vocals, guitar, harmonica; Sharkey McEwen, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Tink Lloyd, accordion, percussion, sitar, flute, mandolin, backing vocals; Felipe Torres, drums, percussion; Bob Torsello, bass, backing vocals; Paul Silverman, keyboards.
Slambovian Bells - Evenings Like This - Winter Wonderland - Very Unusual Head - Silver Bells - Theme From Green Acres / Joy To the World - Bees - Step Outta Time - Suddenly It's Christmas ... intermission ... Night Before Christmas / Pressed Rat & Warthog - Every Little Light - I Wish It Was Christmas Today - Trans-Slambovian BiPolar Express ... encore ... Angels We Have Heard On High / Gloria
Step Outta Time
I Wish It Was Christmas Today
It was a snowy day and the driving was slow, but to see the return of Sharkey McEwen to the Slambovian stage, even if his return is just temporary, was worth the trip.
The chemistry of this band, when Sharkey is on stage, is extraordinary. His presence makes a real difference. The show tonight was absolute perfection. They did a thoroughly entertaining and well balanced mix of tunes. One of the real strengths of this band is their ability to blend the brilliantly silly with the very thoughtful, and that strength was evident in this show. They mixed emotionally touching, original Christmas songs ("Evenings Like This," "Suddenly It's Christmas") and original non-Christmas material ("Bees, "Step Outta Time"), along with a couple of good-natured covers of holiday pop tunes ("Winter Wonderland"). A real show-stopper was the Christmas song on which Sharkey sings the lead vocal, the fast and furious "I Wish It Was Christmas Today."
Tonight I particularly loved hearing "Suddenly It's Christmas." Its wistful images of the passing of time and the cycles of joy were especially poignant given the presence of Sharkey, who for most of this year has been taking a step back from the band. Sharkey played a delicate and melodic mandolin on this song.
The Slambovians played three brilliant and wild mash-ups that are known as highlights of the Christmas shows: "Night Before Christmas" set to the music of Cream's "Pressed Rat and Warthog"; the traditional carol "Joy To the World" with an introduction of "The Theme From Green Acres"; and for the encore, the combo of the traditional carol "Angels We Have Heard On High" with Van Morrison's "Gloria."
Halfway through the second set, the band had a quick conference on stage and rewrote their set list on the fly, deciding to include "BiPolar Express" (Tink's idea, I think); a great choice, considering that that song is a real showcase for Sharkey's guitar playing.
Joziah was more focused than sometimes; I am sure the presence of his long-time musical accomplice helped him feel relaxed. While starting "BiPolar Express," Joziah forgot to put on his harmonica. When Sharkey noticed this, he repeated the riff he plays as part of the intro to the song while Joziah got the harmonica, and Joziah commented: "we cover for one another." Frequent bass player Bob Torsello was there, as well as keyboard player Paul Silverman, who added swirling organ effects and tinkling bells, as well as more standard electric piano, to many of the songs.
Concert Going Partner and I arrived a few minutes before the doors were set to open and waited with a few other shivering concert goers in the sheltered entryway to the venue, while the snow fluttered down. The venue let us in at just 5:30 and, along with our new friend Steve whom we had met in line, we took a table up front on the Sharkey side. We noticed immediately that the only equipment on stage were the drums and keyboards, and started to worry that something bad had happened; the Circus almost always get to a venue early to take care of their elaborate setup and do a thorough soundcheck. The musicians showed up at about 6:15, set up the stage and soundchecked quickly, went downstairs to change into their stage clothes, and managed to start close to on time.
Joziah began the evening by explaining what had happened. There had been two car crashes in the snow on the way to the gig. One car had been carrying three members of the band, and the other two. Only Paul, who had come to the venue on his own, was uninvolved in an accident. All the people were okay, but some of the equipment sustained damage. Sharkey's mandolin had been repaired with duct tape. The two damaged vehicles had to be towed and quick substitute transportation arranged. Despite arriving so late and having to rush through an abbreviated soundcheck, the sound was excellent. All of Tink's instruments were clearly audible, and her backing vocals, singing harmony with Sharkey, sounded splendid, especially on "Silver Bells."
I think this show would have been exceptional even if they hadn't been running on the adrenalin from the car crashes. There was a lot of affection shown from the audience and among the band, especially toward Sharkey. Tink trotted over to his side of the stage several times to face him down while playing cowbell, or tapping him playfully with a drumstick as if he were a human snaredrum. All the musicians seemed to be in an upbeat frame of mind, despite the close call.
The show had to end promptly by 9:00 since another band was coming in for a late show at the Horse. While the musicians got to work breaking down their equipment, concert goers filed out, stopping to wish the members of the band a happy holiday and expressing their gratitute that everyone was okay, after the frightening car crashes.
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