Friday, June 02, 2006

When Your Favorite Band Doesn't Break Up

More than any other band together today, I love the Figgs. I own everything I have been able to get my hands on by the band. I have seen them three times, including the show at the Point in Atlanta when they met Graham Parker, and a later show at the EARL where I stood in the audience between David Cross and a dwarf. No, I was sober.

There was a time when it seemed like the Figgs were going to conquer the world. After their phenomenal 1994 debut LP, Low Fi at Society High, they moved to Capitol Records for Banda Macho in 1996. The single “Girl Kill Your Boyfriend” didn’t sell, and they got dropped. On their next single, J Card, Mike Gent complained about a movie soundtrack deal that fell through and sang, “Do you ever think that we should pack it in?” No, please no! Don’t pack it in, I thought to myself.

Instead, the Figgs served as the backing band for Graham Parker on his “Last Rock and Roll Tour”, and performed new and old GP songs across the US. This tour was documented on a wonderful live CD released in 1997. They also started playing in other bands: Mike Gent in the Gentlemen; bassist Pete Donnelly with Mike Viola and the Candy Butchers; and drummer Pete Hayes with Steve Shiffman and the Land of Nod.

The Figgs Couldn’t Get High came out in 1998. It turned out to be a farewell for lead guitarist Guy Lyons. Once again, I hoped the band wouldn’t give it up. The Figgs were now a trio, and released For EP Fans Only in 1999, and really hit their stride with the full length Sucking in Stereo in 2000. Another full length called Slow Charm followed in 2002, and a two CD set called Palais in 2004.

The Figgs backed Tommy Stinson for a live tour in support of his Village Gorilla Head album, and they backed Graham Parker again for his 2005 Bloodshot Records release, Songs of No Consequence. Pete Donnelly also produced and played numerous instruments on the Death Vessel album (hello, hipsters!).

If you see a copy of Low Fi at Society High in a discount bin, pick it up. You will hear some great songs and manic playing in the vein of This Year’s Model and Joe Jackson’s first two albums. Guy Lyons was an incredibly reckless guitarist, influenced by Greg Ginn and Sonny Sharrock.

After Guy’s departure, the Figgs inevitably had to simplify. Mike can make a mighty noise on his Gibson SG (raise your hand if you’ve heard one of his freakouts on “Shut” or “Chevy Nova” at a Figgs gigg). But the songwriting and musicianship became more direct in their emotional impact. Sucking in Stereo is a terrific collection influenced by the white R & B and garage rock of the 1960's, especially the early Kinks. (The Figgs have covered both “Johnny Thunder” and “Village Green”.) The Figgs continue to make solid records, and they put on tremendous live shows. Two live shows are available at eMusic, as well as the double CD Palais. Their latest live release, Continue to Enjoy the Figgs, is available here.

Here are a few rare Figgs songs. Go Before proves that Pete Hayes is an awesome rock drummer. The flip side of this 1993 single, Let's Get Arrested, appears on many of my mixtapes alongside Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge".

Sully was apparently a reject from the Low Fi sessions. Pete Donnelly knows how to write some unusual melodies, and Guy Lyons follows his bassline note-for-note on this song before taking off for uncharted waters. This Phaser Sounds Divine was part of a split single with the band Prisonshake. I love Mike Gent's lyrics. The song is a vignette about buying an effects pedal, with a passing reference to Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, and for "a middle rhyme" Gent grabs "Pink Flamingos with Divine".

Let me know if you like these songs. I've got LOTS more, and I'd love to hear from Figgs fans.

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10 Comments:

At 6/02/2006 6:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen the Figs 4-5 times with and w/o GP. The shows are great, Mike Gent is amazing. The earlier records don't seem to hit me like live shows (where have I heard that before???). I'd love to hear more live stuff.

 
At 6/02/2006 8:13 PM , Blogger Bill Rocks Cleveland said...

I still have my copy of Lo-Fi at Society High and I agree with you that if you don't own this album, try your hardest to track it down.

On another note, I had no idea that The Figgs were still active. Great post. I have some catching up to do with an old friend.

 
At 6/03/2006 6:45 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

If you're catching up on the Figgs' recent output, start with "Sucking in Stereo".

If you're looking for live stuff, you can buy the band's 2005 live CD at www.thefiggs.net. Or get the shows at eMusic. One of them features a reunion with their former lead guitarist, Guy Lyons.

 
At 6/06/2006 11:31 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Coincidentally (and unbeknownst to me), eMusic added the Graham Parker/Figgs live record on the same day I wrote this Figgs post. It's great stuff, esp. GP's "Take Everything" and the cover of Prince's "Cream".

 
At 6/07/2006 12:29 AM , Blogger Rich said...

Wow, I know *nothing* about these guys. Will have to check out more stuff.

Btw, the Cross/dwarf thing is hilarious.

 
At 6/09/2006 8:55 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Rich, as the chorus in "Let's Get Arrested" goes, "I hope this turns you on."

I was talking to members of the Figgs after the show that night at the EARL, and I told them about David Cross and the dwarf. They said, "David who?", and I said you know, the comedian from Mr. Show. And the Figgs' drummer said, "Oh, you mean DAVE!"

So, in addition to being a former Atlantan and touring with former Atlanta band Ultrababyfat, David Cross is a Friend of the Figgs.

 
At 6/10/2006 3:14 PM , Blogger shrimp cracker said...

Great post on one of the greatest unknown rock & roll bands of our modern era.

Can't wait for the new album!

FYI, other Kinks covers by the Figgs = "Father Christmas" (seasonal), "Where Have All The Good Times Gone," "Death Of A Clown" (most notably w/ Tommy Stinson)

 
At 6/11/2006 8:46 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Thanks for the info! I wish I had the Figgs' Christmas single (and the Pete Donnelly solo tape).

 
At 11/07/2006 11:50 AM , Blogger Jason said...

Wow -- great rare Figgs stuff! Most of this stuff was just rumor to me. Thanks and please post more!

 
At 11/08/2006 10:59 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Jason, you're welcome. I've got some more songs from the singles and the Rejects LP, and I'm working on digitizing The Figgs' first tape, Ginger, since the band hasn't gotten around to it yet...

 

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