LIVE: The Split Squad @ River Street Pub, 8/3/14
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
Three men in horizontally striped shirts are referring to each other as “Jackson”; their instruments are buzzing with volumes atypical of a mellow mid-summer, mid-afternoon in the middle of Troy. It’s Sunday, it’s the Knyghts of Fuzz, and they are only just getting warmed up.
The River Street Pub has its AC set for polar, but the frenzied heat of the garage rock has been winning out since Ian Carlton (guitar), Frank Novko (bass) and Brian Goodman (drums) opened with the blues stomper “I’m Not Talking” and a full-tilt “Hide and Seek” that features all three on vocals. Goodman’s eyes bug out as he pounds the skins and sings his guts out during a cool cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “3/5’s of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and the original composition “Genny.” Carlton’s a live wire on the Electric Prunes’ “Get Me to the World on Time,” singing and playing at a tempo that leaves him drenched in sweat and the growing crowd howling for more. Novko’s bass rumbles like a D & H freight train during his take on “Hey Sha Lo Ney”; Carlton breaks two strings in the process, “a first” he declares while retrieving his spare guitar.
For those not familiar with the obscure 1960s nuggets in the set, the inclusion of the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off” and the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” is welcome and jarring – the former is rendered in a berserk mode, with the only calm moment of the afternoon occurring during the half-spoken “mesmerized” verse, while the latter has Goodman and Carlton singing a dual vocal with gusto. An original composition, “Fleshtones Saved My Life Last Night,” is a roaring manifesto of feedback and distortion to close out the set; it has the ladies dancing and gets a thumbs up from members of headliners, the Split Squad.
Emcee Art Fredette encourages the crowd to get rehydrated immediately because they are in for more great rock ‘n’ roll. It is an understatement, and Fredette knows it because he caught the soundcheck two hours earlier and has not stopped smiling since.
It may be the last show of their tour, but the Split Squad plays with the joyous abandon of a band eager to alter some synapses and flood the dance floor. This is a show that those in attendance will speak of reverently for years to come.
The first eight songs featured come from their 2013 album Now Hear This…, and each one delivers a wallop. Bassist Michael Giblin is grinning, and who can blame him?: on guitars are Keith Streng (the Fleshtones) and Eddie Munoz (the Plimsouls), while Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Clem Burke of Blondie mans the drums. “I’ve Got a Feeling” cooks like a long-lost Who B-side; “Touch & Go,” a Giblin/Streng collaboration, struts and swaggers.
“The f-ing sun is still out!” Giblin cracks before dedicating his composition “She Is Everything” to “all the freaks in Troy, New York!” The Small Faces’ “Sorry She’s Mine” is a three-minute rush of fun to whet the ear for “Superman Says,” which Giblin introduces as “a song about being pissed off and middle-aged.” Streng takes the lead vocal on Terry Reid’s classic “Tinker Tailor,” a mindblowing performance that features Munoz tossing out terse fills and bold solos. Just like on the album, “I Can’t Remember” and “Feel the Same About You” follow back to back; the former has a bit of a Santo & Johnny feel to it, while the latter is a venomous kiss-off, melodic and full of Burke’s rolling thunder drums.
Choice cover songs feature in the second half of the set. The Who’s “Can’t Explain” has the place buzzing with Burke’s drums conjuring up the anarchic spirit of the late Keith Moon. After a choogling “Hey Hey Baby” that has Streng soloing atop more than one table-top, and the hangover cure of “Put It Down,” the band plays an inspired pairing of Jimmy Reed’s swaggering “Help Yourself” (Munoz and Streng trade solos with ease) and AC/DC’s “Next to the Moon” (Streng sings the heck out of it, and Burke lives up to the “engine room” moniker bestowed upon him by Giblin). “Now Hear This” closes it with scorching guitars and a great chorus, but the crowd is tanked up on rock and roll and assorted beverages and yells for more.
“We’ve done nine shows in ten days – this one goes out to Tommy!” declares Giblin, who counts off the late Ramones drummer’s “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” which has quite a few ladies sashaying to the beat. “A Million Miles Away,” the signature cut by the Plimsouls, closes out the late afternoon with a bang. Munoz is on fire, playing a Rickenbacker and quoting bits of “Eight Mile High” by the Byrds, while Streng is answering right back, and throwing in windmills and karate kicks as he surveys the stage and immediate dance floor. Burke is having a blast, laughing from behind his kit. Giblin, by the song’s end, has a beatific look on his face and thanks the crowd.
THE SPLIT SQUAD SET LIST
I’ve Got a Feeling
Touch & Go
She Is Everything
Sorry She’s Mine (Small Faces)
Tinker Tailor (Terry Reid)
I Can’t Remember
Feel the Same About You
Can’t Explain (The Who)
Hey Hey Baby
Put It Down
Help Yourself (Jimmy Reed)
Next to the Moon (AC/DC)
Now Hear This
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend (The Ramones)
A Million Miles Away (The Plimsouls)
THE KNYGHTS OF FUZZ SET LIST
I’m Not Talking
Hide and Seek
3/5’s of a Mile in 10 Seconds (Jefferson Airplane)
Get Me to the World on Time (The Electric Prunes)
Hey Sha Lo Ney
Stop and Think It Over
Let It Go
Rocks Off (The Rolling Stones)
I Don’ See You Anymore
Back in the USSR (The Beatles)
Fleshtones Saved My Life Last Night