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Lyres, Mr. Airplane Man, Coffin Lids and Bamboo Kids
Middle East, Cambridge, MA
June 7, 2003

The Bamboo Kids

The Coffin Lids

Mr. Airplane Man

The Lyres
In the original version of this article, The Coffin Lids were mistakenly identified as the Coffin Daggers. We apologize for the confusion.

Okay, imagine you could see the Rolling Stones open for Muddy Waters. Or The Mooney Suzuki warming up the crowd for The Zombies. Or Radio 4 in an extended jam with Gang of Four. At some level, we all want our rock heroes to be like The Justice League, all hanging out together in a big super-clubhouse, playing pick-up hoops with each other Saturday afternoons and, of course, doing the occasional show, influencees beside influencers, old school next to new. So when Tara McManus e-mailed me to say that Mr. Airplane Man was doing a show with Boston's legendary Lyres, next to Howlin' Wolf maybe their biggest single influence, I was in. Add the up-and-coming (though down-and-dirty) Bamboo Kids, who were opening, plus the rough-assed and skeletal Coffin Lids, and it started to seem like three hours drive on foggy New England roads was not such a bad deal after all.

I was even early.

The evening started before a criminally sparse crowd, maybe ten people total, there to see The Bamboo Kids rip the roof right off. There was nothing too complicated about this trio's output; Some Girls-era Stones, early Who and the Ramones (covered halfway through the set) were obvious influences. What exactly is it that makes one three-chord three-minute punked-out rock song great and another one lie flat on the floor? I've got no idea -- but whatever it is, that's what The Bamboo Kids are doing. Highlights were the shout-alongs "Nothing To Do" and "Suck the Life Out of Me" and the "Goin' to the Go-Go"-like "Continuous GoGo". I bought the record. I'm still trying to figure out what happened, but it was really, really good.

Next up were the Boston-based Coffin Lids, another very tight, very garage-grounded band, this one shading slightly more to the punkabilly side. There was nice interplay between the scarily-thin, Road Runner-tattooed singer, his taciturn lead guitarist and the party-hearty bass player, who, it was said, was playing his last show with the band. The Coffin Lids have an album coming out on Bomp! Records in the fall; they will fit that roster like an auto mechanic's oil-stained glove.

Then it was on to Mr. Airplane Man, the Boston-based blues punk duo whose excellent Moanin' was one of my favorite records of 2002. Live, the girls are far less dreamy and delicate than on the record -- in fact, they rock like hell. Margaret towers over the stage in mini and go-go boots, ripping blues chords out of her battered guitar. Tara bangs the skin off her well-dented drum set; at one point, the bass drum visibly slid across the stage toward the pit. "Is this thing moving or am I just high?" she says, and Margaret replies, "Both." They start their set with an ass-kicking rendition of "Johnny B. Goode", then hit some of the highlights from Moanin' ("Not Living at All" and "Uptight"). Tara adds some Farfisa to several of the songs, leaning over with one hand to hit the keys while maintaining a driving high-hat beat with the other.

Mr. Airplane Man finishes and the Lyres take the stage. In addition to Jeff "Monoman" Conolly, the main common denominator in a line-up that has included more than 30 musicians, the band was made up of drummer Paul Murphy (with Lyres and related group DMZ since the mid-1970s), original Lyres bassist Rick Coraccio. Guitarist Jared Everett, I would guess 20 years younger than his bandmates, was the new guy, and man, you do not want to be the new guy in the Lyres. Conolly took frequent breaks from his perch above his Vox Continental to berate Everett (who sounded fine to me), and occasionally took a shot at Murphy as well. Only Coraccio escaped censure and, in addition to being a particularly fine bass player, he tended to stay back, well out of sight. The sound was monolithically loud, tied to earth by rock-solid drum and bass, but taking off for flight in raving, skirling organ. The band played for more than an hour, performing for an appreciative hometown crowd that knew most of the songs and went nuts for cuts like "How Do You Know" and "Buried Alive". By the end of the night, the first five rows were dancing wildly, maybe reliving their youth, maybe just swept away by the groove. Mr. Airplane Man were right up front, and they knew every tune.

Article and photos by Jennifer Kelly



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