GamVille No. 2 at Club Helsinki

The Wiyos with Andy Bean (second from right)

Before the show even started the stage was awfully busy. Two drum sets, a keyboard, some guitars, an electric bass, and assorted other contraptions cluttered the floor. I cringed a little imagining how the musicians would navigate such tight quarters, but they managed just fine. The musicians in question belong to the three bands playing at the second GamVille held at Club Helsinki in Hudson, NY on Jan. 29th: The Wiyos, The Two Man Gentlemen Band, and Johnny Society.

For those who missed the first, or my post about it, GamVille is a variety show hosted by The Wiyos. Several bands are always scheduled to perform, and there is of course always the element of surprise. The varying bands that are listed for a particular GamVille are always a definite, but amongst them you never know who is going to play with who during which set, nor do you know who might show up to play an unexpected set–or at least sit in on a song or two. That’s part of the fun! Although no unexpected guests showed up at last week’s GamVille, the event was particularly incestuous because Michael Farkas of The Wiyos played a few songs with Johnny Society, Kenny Siegal of Johnny Society played a few songs with The Wiyos, Brian Geltner of Johnny Society played a few songs with The Wiyos as well as The Two Man Gentlemen Band, Andy Bean of The Two Man Gentlemen Band played a few songs with The Wiyos, and, finally, to close the night both Andy Bean and Fuller Condon played with The Wiyos. Got that straight?

The Wiyos‘ evolutionary process is exciting to behold, and I keep being surprised by the unexpected turns the musicians take, the unpaved roads they plow. Not only has the band’s new material continued to be evolutionary, it has also been somewhat revolutionary. The Wiyos’ music seems rebellious against categorization, and the musicians continue to push boundaries which would otherwise limit their artistic expression. It would not be inaccurate to say that The Wiyos’ sound is slightly removed from the vein in which the band started out, but it still retains a distinct undertone of the folk/blues/bluegrass roots that once dominated the band’s music. New sounds have worked their way into the music, however, and as much of a fan as I have always been of traditional bluegrass and blues I find nothing missing in The Wiyos’ newest masterpieces — and masterpieces they are. Whereas the band once described its music as “Vaudvillian-Ragtime-Jugband-Blues & Hillbilly Swing,” The Wiyos have understandably narrowed that classification down to “Americana.” Contrastingly, the songs are more complex, elaborate, and multi-dimensional than ever before, and I hold the members of the band in the highest esteem for continuing to thrill me both as a listener and concert-goer. The musicians of The Wiyos are artists in every sense of the word and in many different forms, including as songwriters, musicians, entertainers, and theatrical performers.

*Due to the fact that the songs we were treated to are not yet in their finished state, at The Wiyos’ request I did not post videos from the band’s performance.

The Two Man Gentlemen Band consists of, aptly enough, two gentlemen. They are an absolute riot, and I quite seriously don’t think it’s possible not to smile in their presence. I say the members are gentlemen and not simply men because the former is exactly what both Andy Bean and Fuller Condon (better known as “The Councilman”) are. They dress in vintage attire and are meticulously groomed, glamorous men. Don’t let their polished look fool you, however — these fellas write and sing songs in the old style which are covertly suggestive, such as “There’s Something In My Trousers,” “Put It In My Ear (When You Make That Music),”  or “Heavy Petting.” They also perform songs in which the message is clear, such as the Andy Bean original “Me, I Get High On Reefer.” The musicians often play with superhuman speed, but technique is never sacrificed. Additionally, not only is a performance by The Two Man Gentlemen Band highly entertaining, it’s also an excellent lesson in many areas of study, including — but not limited to — math, history, music, and liquor. Come to think of it, many songs the band has written over the years are about drinking… “I’ve Been Drinking,” “Sloppy Drunk,” “Drip Dryin’,” Fancy Beer,” “Corn Liquor,” “Wine, Oh Wine” — you get the idea. Many of the band’s songs are also historical non-fiction, such as “The Hindenberg Disaster,” “The Titanic Disaster,” “Franklin Pierce,” “William Howard Taft,” and “Stonewall Jackson’s Arm.” If you think the song titles are entertaining, make sure you check out the songs themselves! Also, here are some videos from the show:

Me, I Get High On Reefer
William Howard Taft
I Like To Party With Girls

A slight change in pace, Johnny Society played next (not one person as the name suggests, but Kenny Siegal on keyboard, guitar, and vocals; Brian Geltner on drums; and Gwen Snyder on bass and vocals). It was all in the family, though, because both  Kenny and Brian had already played with the other bands. Furthermore, although the music Johnny Society plays is rock tinged with punk, the band nonetheless has a shyly folksy quality in some of its songs. Kenny Siegal is also a prominent local producer, and he has been recording The Wiyos’ upcoming album. As mentioned, Michael Farkas sat in with Johnny Society for a few songs, and his harmonica playing integrated seamlessly with the hard-edged music of the band. The band members react well with one another and, although the songs are well-polished, as a listener you feel like a part of the music as it unfolds. The musicians of Johnny Society play piercing instrumentals and keen, alternative-minded rock songs, all of which are performed with incredible musicianship and  surprising sensitivity.

To close the night, a band I will dub the “Five Man Wiyo Gentlemen Band” — a combination of the musicians from the Two Man Gentlemen Band and The Wiyos — took the stage to take turns singing songs written by either of the bands. It is that sense of community that marks all of performances by these musicians, and last Friday that feeling was especially evident. Although the musicians tour extensively and play big festivals, I love seeing them in intimate venues such as the lush Club Helsinki. Smaller settings allow for the personalities of the musicians to shine through. Furthermore, shows at such venues are rich with banter and witty exchange — and there was no shortage of either on Friday.

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