The Giant Kings Live at the Lizard Lounge
Last week, after a middling Wednesday of trying to sell and market real estate with mixed results, instead of throwing in the towel and wrapping myself in a Snuggie to watch the Celtics get eliminated, I did the only thing that made sense at the time: shook myself a small, ice-cold martini.
It was just enough to perk me up and make me want to listen to some music. I checked Facebook and was reminded that the greatest band in Boston, The Giant Kings, was playing that night, the second-to-last of a residency at the beloved subterranean Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. These gigs are relatively rare, and seeing as though I am leaving town for a short Buffalo Tom West Coast tour and would miss the final night, I sent out the Bat Signal and managed to round up a foursome to go down and listen to some great music. When you are in your mid-40s, the enormity of this accomplishment on a Wednesday night cannot be overstated. I must also point out that I had already gone out the previous Monday night to see the legendary Echo and the Bunnymen, my 80’s heroes, at the Paradise. Two nights in one week during the busy spring real estate market makes me feel even more boastful. Combine this with the fact that I have been spending more than my usual allotment of nights in rock clubs these past few months while touring with Buff Tom, well, yes, I am beating my chest! (I made it a trifecta with the Feelies at the Middle East on Saturday.) And those bags under my eyes? They are a a badge of honor.
The Echo show was a bust for me and I left early. But getting back on the horse was the right thing. People, I beseech you to get off the couch and go catch the last night of The Giant Kings at the Lizard Lounge tonight. I have been playing in Buffalo Tom for 25 years. I have and continue to tour the world. It takes a lot to get me excited for a band. Maybe I really just don’t get out enough. But I do still listen for and to new young bands and am a fan of lots of newish regional acts like Mean Creek, the Low Anthem, the Painted Lights, Sodafrog, Watts, John Powhida International Airport, and the Russians. (OK, you got me: those last two have Janovitzes in them.) But give me a table, a beer, and a night of classic covers of Wilson Pickett, Buck Owens, Don Covay, Bobby Womack, etc., played by guys who seem to have stepped right off of dusty, scratchy old Stax, Atlantic, and Motown 45s, and I am in hog heaven.
The Giant Kings are the elite of Boston’s roots musicians, with lists of credits that include Peter Wolf, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Hammond, Roomful of Blues, and others. Their sets are a master class in swing, soul, feel, finesse, and taste. And then, just when you are caught swooning to a refined Santo and Johnny-type bend from guitarist Duke Levine on the Dr. John classic “Such a Night,” he pulls out just the right amount of flash, just to show it to you, just in case you get any wise ideas that you, too, might be able to pull off these riffs… if only you were able to watch his hands in slow motion.
Forget it, pal. Duke, Marty Ballou, Andy Plaisted, Kevin Barry, Paul Ahlstrand, et al are the Samurai class of players in Boston. They sound like they have been playing together for 30 years, a well-oiled rhythm section synced in the same groove at all times, layered with inspired blasts of horns, guitar, and vocals.
There are some bands that you think, boy, I would love to be in that band. Not The Giant Kings. The Giant Kings scare me. But lead vocalist, Chris Cote, is no shrinking violet. Of course, it is hard to be shy in his other incarnation, Count Bassie in the powder-wigged and knickers-festooned Upper Crust. But Chris is not the lead vocalist in that outfit. Many who love the Upper Crust had no idea that Chris can sing like he does here. It takes a strong front man to work with this band, and Chris moves seamlessly from smooth croons and soulful purrs, to swinging R&B phrasing, to sweaty soul shouting and testifying. And yeah, as you might expect, he is funny as all get out.
I am fortunate to be in the same room with them. And so does the assembled audience each night. Sure, it’s mostly the elders of the old days of Boston rock & roll and roots scenes, but there are some younger folks, as well as a nice balance of men and women. And many nights, the unmistakable shadowy profile of night-stalkin’ and tippy-toed Peter Wolf slinks in and finds himself a seat. You generally know you’re at a good show when Wolf walks in, just like when Billy Ruane used to show up. There is a reason Wolf comes down. It is the same reason that one night world-class authors, Peter Guralnick, Tom Perrotta, and Nick Hornby were all at the same table. These are nights, like those at the same venue with the great Session Americana, where people are looking around the room smiling at each other as if they can’t believe they are so fortunate.
How many times does that happen in Boston, where people who might ignore or even be downright rotten to each other in the street assemble to experience collective joy? I know of three: 1) Fenway/the Garden, 2) Church (although I have no recent experience with that), and 3) A great night of live music. If you have been spending too much time on the first two, get your rightful fill of righteous satisfaction at the Lizard Lounge. You can thank me later.
1667 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. 617-547-0759, lizardloungeclub.com.
Cross-posted at PartTimeManOfRock.com