Group is totally ’60s, from boots to hair

In “Tales of the City,” Country Joe McDonald and Syd Straw complain they can’t find anyplace where i

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For Gazette music writer Michael Hochanadel’s preview of this show, click here .

In “Tales of the City,” Country Joe McDonald and Syd Straw complain they can’t find anyplace where it’s still 1968. They would have been right at home seeing Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams on Saturday at the Eighth Step at Proctor’s GE Theater.

Singer/leader Joziah Longo said they’d recently played a British classic rock festival with 1960s bands, and belonged there. They certainly reflected 1960s values thematically and sonically. Borrowing Bo Diddley’s trademark stutter beat, they started by mourning departed rockers, taking up the gauntlet noting, “there’s so much left to do.” They may be a band with a mission, but one listener’s cosmic peace-love-and-understanding profundity is another’s New Age nonsense. Yet no one would argue with their deeply rooted rock ’n’ roll mastery. They play folk venues, but they’re rockers from boots to 1960s hair.

Their retro pedigree (they seem to be in their 30s or 40s except for generation-younger bassist/keyboardist Orien Longo) rang out strongly in the “Pinball Wizard” quote that launched “I Wish” as a country-rocking lope; in the Jefferson Airplane-ish surge and e-bow guitar wails of Sharkey McEwen in “Clear Channel” and in the sonic experimentalism of McEwen’s slide mandolin riffs in “Tink, I Know It’s You.”

Unobtrusive and self-effacing, the rhythm section of drummer Tony Zuzulo — playing a set that could have been hijacked from Ringling Brothers, with its clown portrait across the kick drum — and Orien Longo rocked with assurance and solidity.

However, their un-stagy, stand-and-deliver performing style was even more 1960s: chatty and relaxed. When Joziah stopped and re-started the new and at times ragged “Look Around” on recognizing he was in the wrong tuning, he brushed off this train wreck with the promise that the second set would be better.

Their anthemic first-set-closing “Trans-Siberian Bi-Polar Express” ended the first set just as it began, with Bo Diddley’s beat, but it built into a cooking-hot shout-along that left the crowd on its feet yelling for more.

“Well, good luck, people,” Joziah warily cautioned, noting the second set would be shaped in part by requests before surprisingly (yet effectively) crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and leading the band into a Brit-rock oldies medley that climaxed with “Across the Universe.” Longtime fans rejoiced in this flashback, but newcomers reacted with confusion; and everyone felt on firmer ground as they moved back to their own songbook of what Joziah called “sissy songs,” especially the (actually pretty robust) “The Great Unravel” and the reverent “Talking With the Buddha.”

The Eighth Step continues with the Canadian duo Dala on Feb. 27, while Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams returns to Caffe Lena in the spring.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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