LIVE: Sly Fox and the Hustlers @ Putnam Place, 10/31/2020

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A Hit of Live Music as Putnam, Hustlers Make Some Noise

Putnam Place deemed its smallish Halloween Nite gathering as a good excuse to sneak a brief dose of that increasingly rare commodity called Live Music onto its large but mostly empty stage in downtown Saratoga Springs.

The result was not so much a kicking of the jams as it was a kicking of the cobwebs for all involved — and that was just fine, thank you very much. We’ll take it; and we weren’t alone in feeling that.

Given the depressing COVID era landscape of limited room sizes, dance-free distancing and (especially ) the still (!) confusing NYS regulations directly related to this form of entertainment, this noisy setting was a welcome respite from the mostly quiet and darkened realities of venues such as Putnam and others like it across Nippertown. Even if just for a bit more than a half-hour or so.

Sly Fox
Sly Fox, 1996

The approach on Saturday was to be uber-cautious on the festering issue of whether a show can be scheduled with vs without the usual components of pre-publicity +/or admission fees. That question is sure to get answered shortly by a NYS Appeals Court. By not wanting to incur any unnecessary wrath from NYSLA in the interim, venue management let the notice of “we got music!” get out mostly via casual word of mouth and soft-push SocMed channels. About 25 came.

From there, the logistics were pretty easy: line up a short set by the 518’s long chugging power sluggers Sly Fox & The Hustlers. That was simple, given Mr Fox himself doubles as the Operations Manager of Putnam. Call this group the venue’s house band. Nipper likes house bands.

With the room’s long-toothed PA dusted-off, aired-out and cranked up high for the festivities, the band opened loud with a cover of Donovan’s 1966 hit Season of the Witch. While one would naturally assume this was a timely holiday play, apparently that is not the case: the band is just out of the studio with a full-smack release all ready to roll up the streaming pipelines to see if the world has been waiting for this very remake.

That makes it a curious keeper, as it doesn’t quite make the transition from its hippy dippy origins into the Brit-Blues meets Gov’t Mule type heavy handedness of these hard driving Hustlers. Given its song structure; it should. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t — not quite @ live, anyways. The good news here is that recorded version comes a bit closer to pulling it off.

Then again, we might be too hard on the lads, given it was their first time together on a stage in months and this song was the first blast out of the starting gate. A free pass is certainly warranted. Granted!

But this opener did set the standard for the rest of the song choices. That standard was of this set being predominately cover songs. Riders on the Storm fared only mildly better; Backdoor Man was better still. But the Jeff-Beck styled Going Down came thru loud, clear and dead-on. It should, given its long time in the band’s repertoire. Herein we received a good first look at Sly and the new-to-the-fold guitarist Zak Young trading power licks.

The sense here is that this new gunslinger tag team will gel nicely as they move forward. That thought seemed especially valid when Zack informed Nipper @ post show that he was pretty much being tossed to the wolves here this evening: his only learning initiation beforehand had been a guitars-only duo session a few nights prior. So yeah, that part will only get better and better.

The new kid also sprang the lead vocal duties on another cover, the bouncy Howling Wolf song Howling. Here he provided not only a timely tempo switch but also that ever-important “different guy singing” change up pitch that many acts do not have the luxury of owning. We would further predict he gets one or two more such roles in future sets.

But while the cover tunes delivered those mixed results, the precious-few originals presented by the quintet, on the other hand, delivered the goods and previewed what this band will be all about moving forward.

American Gypsy and Sunny Girl were extra base hits while the Home By Morning was the night’s home run. It is a hard hitting on the road number with a Johnny Cash-like rundown of cities being visited along the way. The fact they ere all upstate ‘burghs made it especially fun.

Thirty minutes from start to finish — and done. Loud and rough, with room to build on. In this troubling day and age, we’ll take these types of small favors. Sure, it was no doubt a glorified practice session from the band’s POV. But it was also a chance to rattle some noise off Putnam’s ceiling to let the ghosts know that it will hopefully be served more of the same — and soon.

Stepping back: Putnam Place is a venue in search of its identity. But it was already in this spot, even before COVID hit town.

The room is built for low/mid level touring acts and its salad days were just that; a stop on the northeast USA’s jam/indie/roots circuit. Yet its more recent past witnessed a partial scaling-back from that legacy and instead ‘going safe’ while also tickling different breeds of cat via dance club and tribute/party band experiences. So the Putnam “brand” is a big ‘?’ while in-limbo and up for grabs at this point in time (or tomorrow’s point in time).

We would hope that is solved by simply reverting back to its ‘Touring Acts-First’ days of old. The natural supplement to that is showing the love to local talent in support and occasional showcase nights for those capable of hitting the road themselves.

A third part of Putnam’s formula could be something that is a bit of a rarity in recent decades: open rehearsals. They’re enjoyable, enlightening and educational. Nipper would like to see a revival of those.

We can think of a certain house band that could fill that role nicely. It’s fun watching stuff grow. Stuff like bands …

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Nippertown.

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