Flat Five at the Hideout

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.

Photos of the Flat Five.

Sadies, Flat Five and Dream Day

Recapping a few shows from the past week…

The Sadies were back in town Thursday (Dec. 4) for a show at Schubas, kicking off a tour with the estimable Tim Easton as opening act. The Sadies don’t have a new record out (not since releasing my favorite album of 2007, New Seasons), so we didn’t get any new songs, but there were plenty of great old tunes – something like 30, I think, if you include all those short instrumentals they ripped through. As always, the Good brothers were simply amazing on their guitars, and I took special notice this time that Travis was playing without any effects pedals at all, and Dallas had just a couple of rudimentary pedals. Further proof that you don’t need a lot of special effects to make the guitar sing. Highlights included covers of “A House is Not a Hotel” by Love and “Shake Some Action” by the Flaming Groovies. Easton put on a good show, too, playing solo acoustic (over chatty crowd noise) and mentioning that he has an album coming out in the spring with more of a rock sound.

Photos of the Sadies and Tim Easton.

Friday night (Dec. 5) marked the return of the Flat Five, a sort of local super group combining the talents of Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, KC McDonough and Gerald Dowd in an idiosyncratic cover band. Well, it’s mostly covers. They play a few originals, but it’s largely old pop, country, jazz, psychedelic and standard songs they clearly love. Their voices blend into truly lovely harmonies, and they have a knack for picking the sort of terrific tunes that a die-hard record collector loves. I stayed for both the early and late shows at the Hideout, and heard them doing everything from Spanky & Our Gang to the Dukes of Stratosphear, Rutles and Hoagy Carmichael. These are some special musicians who rarely put our records. You really have to catch them live to see what they’re all about.

Photos of the Flat Five.

I was back at the Hideout on Sunday (Dec. 7) for a show benefitting Goldie’s Place, an organization that helps the homeless get jobs. The show featured Jon Langford playing solo, followed by Eleventh Dream Day, and Eleventh Dream Day combining with Langford and Sally Timms for several Mekons and Three Johns songs. It was a lively affair, with a couple of strong new songs by Eleventh Dream Day (new album coming soon, guys? Let’s hope…), sloppy but fun renditions of those barely rehearsed Mekons songs and tighter performances of the Three Johns songs. All for a good cause.

Photos of Eleventh Dream Day with Jon Langford and Sally Timms.