Charlie Chesterman & The Legendary Motorbikes / Ray Mason Band – Lizard Lounge (Cambridge, MA)
“Two bands, no waiting,” boasted the flyer for this evening at the low-key Lizard Lounge. That this particular show was a joint CD release shindig for veteran New England roots-rockers Charlie Chesterman and Ray Mason was the real clincher, though.
Musically, the pair are a decade apart: Chesterman’s post-Scruffy The Cat rootsy pop is influenced by ’50s rockabilly and early ’60s Merseybeat, while Mason, though a good ten years Chesterman’s senior, is a product of the blues-and-folk-inspired late ’60s and early ’70s.
The contrast proved refreshing as the two bands swapped sets and, really, common elements were many. Neither has a classically great voice; both had solid guitar-bass-drums backing; neither has a record deal. The Ray Mason Band’s fifth album, When The Clown’s Work Is Over, is out on Mason’s own Captivating Music; Chesterman, after three studio albums on Slow River, formed Aerola Recordings to release Ham Radio. Though neither owns a computer, both now hope for dot.com trade at their respective websites.
Flanked by ex-Scud Mountain Boys guitarist Tom Shea and bassist Stephen Desaulniers, and backed by his effusive, longtime drummer Frank Marsh, Ray delivered two volatile, rocking sets spotlighting his cat’s-yowl voice and sincere, direct songwriting. They focused on songs from the new album, including a big-hearted run through the anthemic title track, while also dipping into 1999’s Castanets and beyond.
Chesterman’s first set (each act played two sets, alternating with each other) kicked off with the only cover on his new record, the light, rockabilly party tune “(Call Me) Tiger Man”. Chesterman’s more countrified, heartbreak ditties were mostly zipped up on this night in favor of sock-hop rock. For an urban audience far too informed to enjoy such simple things, no one (besides Chesterman, who put down some swift footwork) actually danced until the very last song, a cover of the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” that got the bar man and his gal pal doing a dirty boogie.
Playing a smart and well-worn Gretsch, Chesterman dueled guitar parts with Andy Pastore as bassist Jim Faris kept a lofty distance to the side. The Motorbikes’ deadpan drummer Gary Gendron (a Charlie Watts ringer in both musical and sartorial sense) kept tabs from the rear. The Duane Eddy-styled instrumental “Mustang Twang”, the punky western swing of “When I’ve Got Me (And All I Want Is You)”, and older songs such as the coy “Bread & Butter” eventually led to a bashed-out “Great Balls Of Fire” and, preceding the Monkees finale, the saddest (in more ways than one) cover of “Cryin'” sung by a giggling Pastore.
Fun aside, a certain air of resignation touched the proceedings. “I love music but hate the business,” Mason declared earlier. On this night, the business was a far-flung concept, but the love of music wasn’t.