The Mammals exceeded expectations – they were an excellent live act. A five-piece ensemble, all the band are wonderfully skilled musicians and they played with great verve and energy.
The musical genre is a mix of folk, rock and country (bluegrass). The Mammals play the standard bluegrass instruments of banjo and violin and mix that with an electric bass, drums, harmonica and guitar. At one stage there were three banjos playing simultaneously and for this banjo fan it was bliss on a stick. The songs, I was surprised to discover, were all quite familiar – old classic folk tunes or variations thereof. One of the highlights was a rendering of the Richard Thompson song, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, a touching song about a guy and a girl and a motorbike. The band also did a superb version of the Cuban song “Chan Chan”. You may know this song from the Buena Vista Social Club CD.
The band personnel are Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Ruth Ungar Merenda, Mike Merenda, Chris Merenda and Jake Silver. Tao is the grandson of Pete Seeger, so in tune with the legacy of his forebear, a number of the songs were protest songs. They did a very clever variation on the old “Mockingbird Song” (Hush little Baby), involving bribery and corruption at higher and higher levels as the verses progressed.
The above photo shows the three banjos in action. From left to right are Mike Merenda, Chris Merenda (on drums), Ruth Ungar Merenda and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. Jake Silver is out of the picture. I had a chat to him before the show. He said that in order to see their favourite bands, they had to come to Australia. The band comes from New York and he said that there was a dearth of good music in that city. Melbourne has a solid reputation as far as overseas performers are concerned. We are friendly, laidback and really appreciate the music.
The support act was a local all girl group called Dev’lish Mary. They played a lively set of folk country tunes. At various times during their set, Emma Bee joined them to “clog”. I thought she looked very sweet dancing so snapped a few photos of her in action.
I have written a review of the show for the Nu Country website – you can read it here.
It is currently music festival season here in Melbourne, so we are spoiled for choice in deciding whom to see next. Actually it will be Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels next week, again at the East Brunswick Club . I have seen Fred Eaglesmith several times, and he is a great, very humorous, showman as well as being a very fine songwriter, I first saw him in January 2002 when he was part of a singer/songwriter tour. There were five artists, Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Jason McCoy and Audrey Auld as well as Fred, taking turns to sing their songs. My friends and I were transfixed by Fred Eaglesmith from his first song and became instant Fredheads (as his fans term themselves) and barely heeded the other artists, so deep an impact did Fred make on us. The guy has enormous presence, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him again.
Also in the offing, come April, are Chris Smither and Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch.
More on these artists later...