“It’s been about 10 years since we’ve played here. 2009… it feels about 100 years ago,” said Figgs guitarist Mike Gent at the start of the long-running rock band’s stellar set at Caffè Lena on Friday night.
Since the Figgs’ last gig as a full band at the legendary Saratoga Springs music venue, much has changed. Caffè Lena underwent a major renovation in 2016 that added seating, a new entrance and elevator, and a bigger stage.
Also upgraded: the old speaker system and flooring that required bands to keep the volume turned down for the first 56 years of the venue’s existence. That was normally not a problem for the folk acts playing Caffè Lena’s storied stage.
For a band like the Figgs, known for high-octane rock and roll, turning down could be a pain. “The first show we played here, a staff member came by and said, ‘You’re too loud,’ ” quipped Gent during Friday night’s show.
“I think we were playing at 15 percent,” added bass player Pete Donnelly wryly.
In 2019, at a shiny new Caffè Lena (where beer and wine are now served, too), the Figgs are allowed to play fully loaded. That served the band well as they knocked out an amazing 38 songs, spanning the band’s equally impressive 32 years in existence.
“Lena didn’t really like electric music, but the reality is she booked us, so she liked us,” Donnelly said from the stage of Lena Spencer, whose presence is still very much felt at the Phila Street folk venue she founded in 1960.
The show started with “Servo Lock,” a classic-sounding Gent rarity that had bassist Donnelly bopping about the stage like a buoy.
From there, the Figgs offered up four — “Paolo the Alto,” “Outro to Paolo,” “Grab Your Pack,” and “Waves Make Patterns ‘’ — from their newly released record, “Shady Grove.”
No longer content with just putting out double albums, the Figgs released “Shady Grove” on Sept. 20 as a triple record. It’s the band’s 14th studio album since they started in 1987 as a scrappy group of Saratoga High Schoolers.
There were loads of highlights from the two-set show, including covers of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” (fitting for the venue known for hosting the iconic songwriter in his early days), Arthur Alexander’s R&B classic “The Girl that Radiates that Charm,” Squeeze’s “Take Me I’m Yours,” and Badfinger’s “Just a Chance.”
Other highlights included a Donnelly solo hit “Got Caught Up” (which he recorded with country star Shelby Lynne), Gent’s kidney-stone inspired “In a Small Hospital,” new song “Reset Switch,” Donnelly’s “The Trench,” Gent’s “There Are Never Two Alike,” and early Figgs number “Happy.”
Caffè Lena soundman Joe Deuel once captured the Figgs in an exuberant black and white photograph from the venue’s stage that appeared on the cover of the band’s 2010 album, “The Man Who Fights Himself.” The photo shows drummer Pete Hayes standing up wildly on his kit, brandishing his sticks.
Hayes is known for coming out from behind his kit to take over vocals for “Pete Hayes Time,” which happens nearly every show and featured the drummer this night on Hayes-penned songs like “Quitters Unite!” and the comically titled “I Left My Johnson in Wisconsin.”
The second set concluded on a high note with great songs like “Embrace the Train,” “Simon Simone,” “Your Smile Is a Deadly Thing,” and “Something’s Wrong.”