The Figgs are a very, very fine band from Saratoga Springs, New York, who have been together for thirty two years, and in the best way, sound like they have been together forever. They have an almost telepathic connection, vocalist and guitarist Mike Gent, vocalist and bassist Pete Donnelly, and drummer and sometime vocalist Pete Hayes. We reviewed them live recently at tinyurl.com/zubfiggslive and our description of this band was:
The band is from Saratoga, NY (Home of the Adirondack Chair), and has gone through scrappy, Replacement-y phases to a cool sort of later period Rolling Stones sound now to a wonderful R&B tinged phase that reminds me a bit of the best of British Pub-Rock. Their songwriting is concise, not at all indulgent, and the lyrics and melodies are unstoppable. They tick ALL the qualification boxes on the ride-or-die band checklist.
Which brings us to The Figgs’ newest release Shady Grove. Dear readers this is a TRIPLE LP. You heard right. Three records, two CD’s. Twenty five songs. One hour and fifty one minutes of music! When I hear ‘triple LP’ I immediately think of The Clash and Sandinista! That was a fun listen but ultimately was held together with filler and some indulgent stuff that weren’t really songs. I’ve listened to all of Shady Grove many times now. I can tell you it is a great collection. There may be a little bit of filler (The Figgs are not known for their instrumentals, and some are included here) but there are a number of killer, killer songs on this collection. A triple album is a commitment, and that devotion is earned here.
Probably the best rocker on the record is ‘Grab Your Pack,’ a relentless rocker from Mike Gent showing off the tension in a riff. Lyrically, everything goes wrong in the song, dancing people turn to plastic, then end up covered in plastic. People are looking to escape, go across the Atlantic, but they get into a panic. It’s one of the best rock songs I’ve heard in a long time. Pete Donnelly’s ‘Reset Switch,’ with its insistent “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” chorus is a great follow up song, and also catchy as hell with no distorted guitar in sight. ‘Shady Grove’ is a slow-jam blues burner, very unlike anything I’ve heard from The Figgs, but it is beautiful with Mike Gent giving it his all on the smoky R&B vocal. There’s cool electric piano, a tasteful, not-too-many-notes blues solo followed by a cool acoustic guitar solo. These guys are still brimming full of ideas.
“Sleeping Dogs (Part 1 and 2)’ features a great acoustic approach, a delicate descending chord change, and Donnelly’s amazing, amazing bass playing. He’s one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen, fluid but not overly flashy or busy. ‘Part 1’ morphs into ‘Part 2,’ becoming a late-night trance jam. This is really mature, cool music. ‘Bad Decisions’ has a great Hayes beat and Donnelly singing, going into Motown territory.
Gent’s ‘A Little Sip’ is an absolute gem, a rollicking chord change with a superb power pop chorus. Yes, it’s that good, sounding like it could be a Beatles or Badfinger tune, or a Will Owsley song. It is that good. Donnelly’s ‘Brandenburg Gate’ is another great bookend, sounding a bit like a later period Paul Westerberg song, insistent and insightful, he sings:
I never wanted anything/ Until I needed everything/Now I’d give anything, for you
Opening with a harp flourish (?) ‘When Mandy Comes,’ written by Gent, is very slow and poppy with a great melody The lyrics deal with the tale of a girl:
She met older men, and did nothing then/ Went back to boys/ And seemed annoyed
On the screened in porch/ We’d laugh of course/ And take our time/ With weed and wine
Donnelly’s ‘Black Alabaster’ has a full R&B horn section and again feels like a classic Motown song. No one does stuff like this anymore, and it’s great. ‘Quitters Unite!’’ has Pete Hayes on vocals with what sounds like some kids. It’s a hilarious song.
So what do you do/ When the boss has you blue/ Each day is a test/
So take a shit on his desk
‘Waves Make Patterns’ is a classic sounding Donnelly song, with an R&B, indie feel and some great lyrics:
I tried to replace the locks/ Roll out the fuses and zero the clocks/ I’m a man with a reset switch / Familiar terrain makes a body twitch
All the waves make patterns/ It remains in static
The collection closes with ‘Pink Palace (Loop)’ a tight, sinewy groove with synth-pop overtones. Donnelly really puts this over and it will stick in your ear. Shady Grove ends with the Stones-groove of ‘Down At Le Sound’ (a live standout) that is just about the perfect Figgs song.
The triple LP has about five instrumentals. ‘T.C Is Here’ opens the collection and is a tribute to a friend that is gone. ‘Walking To Scribner Village’ is a short pop instrumental reminiscent of RAM-era Paul Mc Cartney. ‘P.J. Is Here’ is a synth workout. ‘E.H. Is Here’ is a prog-rock sounding instrumental, with bass. drums, and mellotron sounds. It’s pretty cool. ‘Newburyport’ is a seven-minute plus melodic instrumental that calls out for a vocal and lyrics.
I enjoyed all of this collection. It’s an engaging, sprawling, quality, mature statement from one of America’s best (and not well known) indie bands. It’s well written, not indulgent, well played and well recorded, and is not inflated to triple disc length by filler. Plus, it has a very high percentage of TERRIFIC songs on it. Hunt this one down. The Figgs earn and deserve your ears.