There’s more to holiday music than mall Muzak and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer;” many cool holiday shows here.
On Friday, The Figgs return to the Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany), an annual holiday homecoming for the now geographically scattered trio. Formed in Saratoga Springs (as the Sonic Undertones) right after high school, the Figgs are guitarist Mike Gent, now living near Boston; bassist Pete Donnelly, now near Philadelphia; and Manhattan resident drummer Pete Hayes.
Donnelly said by email on Sunday that Low Beat impresario Howard Glassman “is a dear friend.” He said, “Walking in a bar that has a poster of your band permanently installed gives one a really warm feeling. Albany was our first ‘city’ and will always hold a special place in our hearts.” He said the Figgs’ first Albany show was opening for Alice Donut at QE2 around 1990, for $50.
The Figgs started playing holiday shows in the mid-1990s, accidentally. “We just started adding Christmas lights . . . and a few Christmas tunes,” said Donnelly. “It seemed appropriate and then we kept it up — for like 20 years!”
Their ingenious power-pop has earned respect over nearly 30 years and two dozen records; the first few on cassette. The New Yorker recently hailed them as a “charmingly understated rock band,” noted “Je T’Adore” was featured in a Lexus ad and praised their “dense repertoire and nimble, inventive playing.”
Their website announces holiday shows to “close out this grim year of 2016” and plans for a new album. “When we get into the studio in January we’ll dive in and get a sense of what’s cooking,” said Donnelly.
Make that “studios,” plural. They’ve been recording at Seth Powell’s (Charley Watts Riots) place in East Greenbush, said Donnelly, “an incredible spot where we feel nice and at home.”
They’ve also been recording with Ducky Carlisle at his Ice Station Zebra studio in Boston and in their home studios.
At his own Westmont Station, Donnelly shares recording time with his four musical children. He marveled, “They’re all playing!” He said, “My teenager has been recording and gigging for a while now. The younger ones all play violin, piano, guitar, drums — they sing and jam.” Donnelly proudly added, “It’s in their blood and it’s very fun to see it come through them. It’s like they’re learning to speak.”
His children sing on one track of “Face the Bird,” Donnelly’s second solo album (of four). His fellow Figgs also do solo projects, and they all played with Graham Parker onstage and on record. Donnelly also played with the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet from late 2007, when they played their first-ever show at WAMC’s The Linda, through when Adams reclaimed the name NRBQ in 2011 to late 2012.
Donnelly still sits in with them, including at the Ardmore Music Hall near his home last year. “The show was recorded and at least one tune from that night turned up on the 50-year retrospective box set that just came out: ‘High Noon’,” said Donnelly. “I am thoroughly honored to be a part of my favorite band of all time.”
The Figgs are THAT band for many here, making Friday’s show a special holiday celebration. 8 p.m. $10. 432-6572 www.thelowbeat.com
Also at the Low Beat, Hamell on Trial returns next Wednesday for a 6 p.m. “holiday happy hour that you need,” as the club’s website promises. Powerful, political, poetic, Hamell is a force of nature.
MOUNTAIN SNOW ROLLS ON
Fabulous folkies Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball have retired from holiday music — and merry-making — but their terrific Mountain Snow Orchestra keeps delivering seasonal good times and tunes. The Orchestra returns to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Friday: Kevin McKrell, guitar; Brian Melick, percussion, sound effects and faces; and John Kirk, violin. You’ll laugh, you’ll chair-dance, you’ll sing along. 8 p.m. $24. 473-1845 www.theegg.org
DARLINGSIDE AND TALL HEIGHTS
Darlingside and Tall Heights, both young folk-rock crews from Massachusetts, play The Egg on Sunday. The Folk Alliance dubbed Darlingside — Dave Senft, bass; Don Mitchell, guitar and banjo; Auyon Mukharji, violin and mandolin; and Harris Paseltiner, cello and guitar —Artist of the Year. They recently released “Whippoorwill,” outtakes from their much-honored second album “Birds Say” (2015). Tall Heights — Tim Harrington, guitar; and Paul Wright, cello — just released their fifth album, “Neptune,” on the prestigious SONY Masterworks label. 7 p.m. $29.50
“Sing Solstice” returns to the Eighth Step at Proctors GE Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) on Sunday. With the same cast since 1990 — Magpie (Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner) and Kim & Reggie Harris — they know how to warm a long, cold night. The Pokingbrook Morris Dancers also perform. 7 p.m. $24 advance, $26 door, $40 front and center. 434-1703 www.8thstep.org
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com