It was my first time seeing a show downstairs at Radio in Somerville, though if one has been to the place at all, chances are the small basement stage has at least been walked past en route to the bathrooms, which are also down there. Decor is some string lights, a New England Patriots throw rug and a Futurama poster on the wall, a small P.A., a table and a couple chairs, and the vibe is low-key, perfect for a mostly-acoustic night like this one, though Nature Films, who were about to get started when I arrived, were plugged in. An indie trio from Upstate New York, they were joined in the evening’s lineup by Tastefulnudes, which is Keith Pierce and Jess Collins of Mellow Bravo, Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback on his first solo tour, and Black Thai frontman Jim Healey performing his own solo material with Joe McMahon on bass, who has worked with Healey for his studio output as well as played with his own jazz trio and numerous others.
Still, a mostly subdued night, and plugged though Nature Films were, earplugs were not required to get a sampling of their semi-jangly and unpretentious tongue-in-cheekery. They probably could’ve easily fallen into hip pretense, but nothing’s going to help steer clear of that trap quite like a song about getting a bad blowjob. Pierce, whose own very-much-on-display sense of humor worked in a similar vein, would make for a fitting follow-up as Tastefulnudes (also written stylized in all caps, as if to underscore their intent to grab attention) found him and Collins teamed with Dana Fisher as a guitar/vocals, piano/vocals and cello three-piece. For his part, the charismatic Mellow Bravo frontman could hardly wait for the set to start, and he strapped on his acoustic guitar and walked around the room more or less singing what he saw before actually plugging into the P.A. and belting out somewhat less riotous takes on Mellow Bravo tunes like “Just Like Water Would” and “Prairie Dog,” starting off with the especially memorable “Señorita” from Mellow Bravo‘s self-titled debut (review here), the melody of which proved all the more resonant with the sparser arrangement.
And maybe that was part of it, but throughout the Tastefulnudes, Mike Cummings and Jim Healey sets, there were a couple times where I had to kind of pull back and say, “Holy shit these people are talented.” Watching Pierce hold an acoustic guitar and burp into the mic, it was hard not to think of Jack Black‘s glory days in Tenacious D, but let that also stand for his vocal range. He and Collins make an exceptional pairing vocally, her piano adding depth all the while and her stage presence an anchor all the more alongside his with just Fisher‘s cello filling out the sound as opposed to the two guitars, bass and drums of Mellow Bravo. It was a loose kind of night, mostly laughs among the friends in the crowd, but on a sheer performance level, they not only showed the chemistry at the root of their louder outfit, but explored a range that a full band simply couldn’t while keeping to an intimate feel suited to the course of the evening. They made it easy to get on board, burps and all.
With few amps and no drums to move once Nature Films had finished, the show moved pretty quickly along. Once Cummings was plugged into the P.A. and had a chair on stage, he was more or less ready to go. People were chatting in the back, and others coming and going, and where Tastefulnudes were quieter than Mellow Bravo, they were still fairly raucous in comparison to Cummings, who was up there alone with his guitar, minimal in his arrangements and playing more generally subdued songs. No cover, to think of it another way, and though he’s new to the style of performing and he said as much from the stage — somewhat strange to think of him as being “sheepish” after seeing Backwoods Payback the several times I have, but he was closer to it than not, and I suppose Backwoods has a certain humility underlying the volume — he did well with the rawer context and made it plain to see that he’s genuine in wanting to try his hand as a troubadour. Hell, the fact that he’s touring by himself speaks volumes in that regard.
I’d checked out Healey‘s 2010 solo outing, Dreams of Odessa, before and 2012′s Live at O’Brien’s Pub, but neither really does justice to the richness of his voice live, though the quality of his songcraft shines through and songs like “Something from Nothing,” “The Sky is Falling” and “No Place to Be,” which closed here as it did at the recoded O’Brien’s gig were only bolstered by the complementary performance of McMahon, who was not only incredibly smooth on bass, adding a bit of funk to the more upbeat “The Sky is Falling,” but harmonized on vocals as well, making the gorgeous melody of “Some of Me” all the more potent. The recent “Tomorrow’s Gone” Healey noted was written in the wake of his father’s passing, and the freshness of the wound was clear in his playing the song, which preceded “Whole Lot of Nothing” and “World War Eight,” both of which shared a kind of reflective downerism, once again made all the more palpable through the chemistry between Healey and McMahon on stage.
Earlier I said that I hadn’t needed earplugs, and that’s true, but the only time I even considered I might was listening to Healey move air with his voice. It’s not that he was too loud through the speakers. I don’t think the situation would’ve been any different had the P.A. been shut off. The guy has lungs for weeks and the more I see him play, the more evident the depth of his talent becomes. There was still about half an hour of show time left when they were done, and though a 29-minute bass solo was teased — and with the tone McMahon was able to get out of his instrument, I probably wouldn’t have complained in sitting through it — but instead the extra time was passed sitting around the table in the basement, shooting the shit on a range of subjects from George Clinton doing drugs on stage to dudes making a living on retainer for Miley Cyrus.
I guess music was the center of it, so fair enough, but it was a cool sit and laugh with Healey, McMahon, Cummings, Pierce, Collins, Black Thai guitarist Scott O’Dowd who’d come out for the show, Fisher and one or two others who checked in en route to or from the bar, and it made a fitting end to a mellow night, preceding a drive home in the increasingly chilly New England autumn air.
You’ll find a couple extra pics after the jump, and a video of Cummings doing “Maybe Time.” Thanks for reading.