Grooving With The Baker Thomas Band at Toad
Thursday night in Cambridge was crazy. I was hopping between the Lizard Lounge and Toad. I’ve wanted to see the Baker Thomas band for some time now, and on Thursday I made it happen. I’ve been looking forward to seeing them because of the line-up, which includes Tom Bianchi (seen here on the left playing bass), Jeff Gaynor (keyboards), Dietrich Strause (trumpet), Hugh McGowan (guitar), Larry Scudder (viola) and Jim Larkin (drums) and on this night, Brendan Hogan (guitar) as well. These guys are some of the best musicians and songwriters in the Boston area and it showed in their performance. At one point there was sheet music flying around, but you wouldn’t have known it if you didn’t see it – these guys are good.
The Baker Thomas Band is currently playing a Thursday night residency at Toad – so you have two more chances to see them this month. Here’s the band a few songs into the second set after Brendon Hogan had joined them on stage. They play a variety of styles rooted in blues, folk and rock and they like to play. This band is very fun to watch because while they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, they are very serious about the music, even when they’re not, um, being serious. Which happens from time to time and is generally fun to watch. These players are all clearly comfortable as an ensemble and have considerable solo experience as well. So they just know what they are doing.
Dietrich and Hugh traded solos on one song and it was just a blast to watch. Brendan shrugged over his shoulder during a song. Hugh glances at him knowing he’s got the solo. He glances at Dietrich. I’m not sure Dietrich even nods back, but his eyes get a little twinkle in them. Hugh starts playing, run a sweet melody through half the verse and as his solo starts to conclude, you hear Dietrich coming in slowly, then jumping right into his own solo. And they trade back and forth a few times like this, always knowing when to jump in or out until the song moved onto the next bit. Hugh is playing a beautiful vintage Gibson ES-330 – man that is a nice guitar.
Early in the set, Dietrich was standing on stage directly under one of the only stage lights in the place, which made the following shot possible. By the way, this kind of photo is why I so hate to use a flash in a club. You’re not getting this shot with a flash on.
One of the great things about this band is that all of the players in it are writing songs. The start of the second set, for example, ran something like this: Keep It Off (Jeff Gaynor), Nuns With Guns (Dietrich Strause), Rock Cast In The Sea and What’s The Difference (Brendan Hogan). By the way, this is not the first time I’ve heard Keep It Off. It’s a really well crafted song to begin with, but Jeff Gaynor sings it with infectious passion and enthusiasm. You just have to sit back and let him take you on that journey, and it is a fine one.
I’ve seen Brendan Hogan before as well, but as a solo artist. This was the first time I’ve seen him with a full band. The Baker Thomas Band does a really, really good job with his material. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it: you have seven instruments and a couple people singing in a tiny club like Toad. They are all squished together on (or off) the tiny stage. And it sounded great. You could pick out and follow each instrument and hear it quite distinctly. It’s also not too loud. I saw Tom running the board at Toad and he clearly knows how to work it.
Brendan’s songs are really arranged well by the Baker Thomas Band. These musicians all know the best way to play their parts to make just the right contribution to the overall song – that’s another advantage of having such a talented group. They were good enough so that Brendan could actually call out a change in the song and have everyone else pick it right up and nail it. Bianchi was right there, counting it out with Brendan as soon as he picked it up, eyes wide, neck of the bass bouncing up and down in time. It was great – I so enjoy a band that can mix it up. It shakes all the players into a creative zone and in the case of this band, that is a good place for them and a fun place for the rest of us watching. Oh and if you remember that stage light, well, Brendan stepped into it too.
So go see the Thomas Baker Band this month before the residency is over. And if you are new to this genre, check out each player in this band and look who else they are playing with: you’ll gain access to a very large repertoire of great music across a pretty good spectrum of styles, but certainly rooted in acoustic, folk, folk-rock, Americana and blues. And there’s also never a cover at Toad. I’m just saying.