The words “cover band” are usually a sort of insult in the world of rock critics. You wanna be a respected band? You’d better have some original songs. But that attitude overlooks a great tradition of musicians and singers interpreting songs written by other folks. That’s the lifeblood of classic jazz and the “American Songbook” sort of pop music.
So let’s call the Flat Five a fabulous bunch of song interpreters instead of labeling them a cover band. The Flat Five play only once a year (at least, that’s been the case during the last few years), and Friday was the night. Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, KC McDonough and Gerald Dowd reconvened this wonderful music outfit and performed their annual show at the Hideout.
The first songs of the night had a strong country and folk flavor, including tunes by Dolly Parton, Tom Paxton and the Louvin Brothers — and the Monkees’ “What Am I Doing Hanging Around.” This part of the concert featured just Ligon and Hogan on the stage, just the sound of their voices and Ligon’s acoustic guitar (which he was playing into a mike instead of using a cable into an amp). The other members of the Flat Five gradually joined them on stage. When Nora O’Connor came up, she and Hogan sang some of the tunes they used to do in a gospel duo called the Lamentations, such as the Staple Singers’ “Somebody Saved Me.” (Hogan mentioned that the two of them had just been recording some music with Mavis Staples — can’t wait to hear that!)
Ligon and McDonough did their best Roy Orbisons on a duet of “In Dreams.” And then, with the full band playing, the Flat Five ran through an amazing selection of wonderful songs from all sorts of genres, including the goofy “Kites Are Fun” by the Free Design, “Sundays Will Never Be the Same” by Spanky and Our Gang, “This Will Be Our Year” by the Zombies and “Vanishing Girl” by the Dukes of Stratosphear. Plus three Beach Boys songs, Randy Newman’s “Caroline” and a few original songs by McDonough, Ligon (and Ligon’s brother, Chris).
The song selection showed superb taste — and a great ear for what makes a classic pop song. And what voices! There’s nothing like hearing the natural sound of lovely voices harmonizing right in front of you. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait a whole year for the next appearance of the Flat Five.