On one level, The Figgs’ show at the Low Beat Friday night was another fun rock club show for their veteran fans. On another level it was kind of a high school reunion for friends who have been seeing the band since their Saratoga High School days 30 years ago. This included old friends approaching and re-introducing themselves to the parents of one of the band-members before the show started.
But it’s hard to say how much this home-court advantage helped them. The band hopped on stage around 9:30 and burnt through a few dozen songs – ranging from three to five minutes each – without taking too many breaths. The trio is so tight at this point, the songs so concise, each of their roles shaved to maximum efficiency, that it’s hard to tell a great night from an off night — it’s just solid straight-ahead rock, the fresh kind that doesn’t make it above the radar any more.
Opening with “Your Smile Is a Deadly Thing,” sang by Pete Donnelly, who managed to simultaneously drive the song with aggressive bass lines underneath the sound all night. He split the lead vocals with Mike Gent through the show, who harmonized on most songs together, as well as traded lines here and there. In some spots they finished one another’s sentences. They probably do this in conversation as well.
The two also traded solos all night. The solos stayed within the songs, rarely running for more than two rounds, but always adding energy and new elements to the song. Drummer Pete Hayes was as much part of the sound, always strong, always threatening to overplay but staying right there on the edge, the perfect spot for The Figgs. In a trio, there is no place to hide, and none of them ever tried.
They covered The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbin,”a good song, but they could do without it and go with a different cover or more of their own. They followed with a song, "Sully," from a record in the early ‘90s that Donnelly said never came out. They talk very little between songs – more music for us – but it would have been nice to get an old, quick story about a record that never saw the light of day. A Figgs show demands a rhythm of song after song for the audience and for the band.
They played a few from their latest release, “Other Planes of Here,” as well as older tunes like from the “Badger” record. On “Smoking a Lot,” Gent’s hyper-reggae rhythm played inside the micro-spaces isolated by the bass and drums. This kind of interplay was rampant. The trio’s sound was strong and loud, and it stayed together just right—packed in the middle, and smooth around the edges. Not an easy thing to do in a small room.
There were some notable songs that could have been stretched out a bit, given the energy of the crowd, such as “Do Me Like You Said You Would.” But The Figgs know better – these songs have been tested through time and are best when delivered like a packed punch.
The show was billed as a holiday show, so they played a few – very few – seasonal covers, though not the holy kind, like the Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” These Figgs-appropriate lyrics include, “Father Christmas, give us some money . . . give all the toys to the little rich boys.”
New wave, punk, rock-a-billy, call it whatever you want, its old-school excellence and part of the western music progression that helped pave the way for the hit sounds today. And its best when done in a bar. The Low Beat itself has the same underdog story as the Friday night band: The Figgs’ and the Low Beat are a match that belong together.