Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photograph by Joseph Deuel
“Welcome to Rich and Denise’s Christmas party!” exclaimed Chandler Travis as he adjusted the microphone, strapped on his bass and smiled at his friends in the audience. It was time for the Catbirds to rock Valentine’s very foundation and for a guitar amplifier to warm up for its inevitable demise.
Twenty-six songs, spanning two sets, and all reverberating on the last real rock and roll venue in Albany on a Thursday night. Yep, you’re probably kicking yourself for not leaving the house.
Opening with “Everybody Christmas Time,” which fused the best elements of the Kinks and Rockpile, the Catbirds set the tone for the evening. Every song was like an unexpected gift, though the band was open to requests and “bequests.” Guitarist Steve Wood led the band through the tremolo-laden “Swamp Girl” like a ragin’ Cajun; Travis delivered “All I Wanna Know Is” like it was the hit it ought to be, complete with Rikki Bates swirling drum work. Guitarist-mandocellist Dinty Child stepped up for a spirited “That’s Right,” trading firecracker solos with Wood over a Latin beat.
The Catbirds’ influences are about as diverse as any in the land. T. Rex’s gem “Mambo Sun” was tipsy and wry; Mel Torme’s “Coming Home Baby” got a deft vocal round treatment; King Floyd’s “Groove Me” exuded beach music swagger; and Goffin and King’s “Another Night with the Boys” sounded like a honky tonk classic done in Shaver style. Equally stirring renditions of Love’s apocalyptic “7 and 7 Is,” Ronnie Dawson’s rockabilly juggernaut “Fish Out of Water” and John Lennon’s timeless, reassuring boot-stomper “Instant Karma” were like getting extra gifts in the Christmas stocking.
Yet the real treats were the originals that dominated the night. “First Warm Day” captured the essence of feeling a change in the weather, while “I Viborate” channeled the mayhem of Sun Records-era Jerry Lee Lewis. “Stoned” and “Are We Done Yet?” – both from the band’s recent short disc “Viborate” – were psychedelic garage-rock forays at their finest, awash with reverb, echo and guitar strings ablazing over thrilling drum patterns. “We Are New Men” wryly looked at the rapid, unforeseen technological shifts in our culture: “There’s a satellite above me/ That gives me tweets from David Duchovny.” Meanwhile, “Change the Names” and “Crutch of Music” showed off the superb interplay among the Catbirds as well.
You had to be there, trust me, just to smell an amplifier smolder at the end of the first set – now that’s rock ‘n’ roll. Look for a full-length cd release from the Catbirds in 2012.
Local favorites the Mysterios played a wonderfully raucous opening set inspired by sounds from the mid-1960s. Originals such as “Ed Wood’s Making Movies” and “Going to the Rodeo” were mixed in with choice covers from the Velvet Underground (“Rock and Roll”) and psychedelic pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators (“You’re Gonna Miss Me”).