Live: The Figgs @ The Hangar on the Hudson, 12/03/2021
It’s the holiday season here in Nippertown, and with that come certain local traditions. The skating rink is open down at the Plaza, the Capital Lights are underway in Washington Park (albeit for the last time in that location), Schenectady had its Holiday Parade, and the Victorian Stroll season is off and running in Troy. One other holiday tradition hit Troy last night, and that was the annual Christmas show from local heroes The Figgs. After the pandemic kept them away last year, Saratoga’s favorite sons were back at The Hangar on the Hudson for their annual holiday romp for the Capital Region.
The cozy confines of The Hangar were festooned in appropriate fashion, right down to the Christmas lights across the drum kit and the Abominable Snowman perched atop the amp. Sometime around 8:30, the three boys from Saratoga unassumingly took the stage and began what would be a rollicking and lengthy march through their catalog. “Boys” is more a state of mind than a calendar reference in this case. All 50ish now, they are more than 30 years removed from the late 80s, where they were impressing at local clubs that they were too young to get into otherwise. They have since dispersed geographically, but have stayed together throughout, touring and recording regularly. Last night’s show demonstrated why they captivated the local scene so long ago, and why they remain just as relevant and exciting today.
For the uninitiated, The Figgs are Mike Gent (guitar, vocals), Pete Donnelly (bass, vocals), and Pete Hayes (drums, occasional vocals). Visually, they are all quite distinct. Donnelly has a natural youthful charisma that immediately draws your attention. Gent, often behind sunglasses, evokes a little of the Lou Reed coolness from a certain era. And Hayes, behind the kit with his long white beard, provides as much visual anchor as he does musically. They are – at all times – very much themselves but at the same time a unit. It’s a natural rapport that only comes from playing together for decades.
Three or four songs in, and some things are quickly established. One is the beauty of the power trio. Three guys, three instruments, up close and personal. Nothing to hide behind. You’re either talented and shine, or…don’t. The Figgs very much shine. Gent’s guitar work jumps out immediately, not only on his leads but also rhythmically. Stylistically diverse – he moves from syncopated scratches to soaring edgy riffs, to the occasional brooding moody “feel” piece. He even claimed to use reverb for the first time last night…not sure how literal to take that. Donnelly’s voice continues to stand up exceedingly well. His energetic, punchy style (often ending on elevated notes) is one that could become a challenge as one ages, but absolutely no sign of that. He’d bury some vocalists half his age.
The song selection was a balanced mix of old and new. First set highlights included a blistering “If That’s What You Want”, a more subdued “The Central Stumble” (with all its Albany references particularly resonating with the crowd), and Husker Du’s “Dead Set on Destruction”. But for me, the real high point was the streak of new songs in the middle, including an area debut of one about a nursing home, with hysterically funny lyrics (I missed the title). Many of the new songs were fresh enough that the band was reading the lyrics while they performed, but the quality of them shined through clearly.
“Intermission” was a very brief sidebar without ever leaving the stage, during which they took requests for the second set from the audience. This set started in similar fashion to the first – a series of solid numbers from their back catalog, followed by the introduction of some (again, very strong) new numbers. Then, as the night wore on, things got delightfully looser. The band started playing off all the old friends they saw in the audience, calling them out by name. Riffing on the old “say the city name” rock cliche, they took it to absurd levels (as only locals could). “Who here’s from Defreestville??!!” It no longer felt like a band playing to their audience, it felt like old friends, like family. And it was.
Continuing the good time vibe, they played their new (appropriately Christmas-themed) single “Santa’s Beard”, which went over well. Then it was “Pete Hayes time”, where the drummer comes out from behind his kit to front the band for a couple of songs (a Figgs tradition). He kept the Christmas vibe going with The Who’s “Christmas” (from Tommy), followed by the anthemic “Quitter’s Unite”. Nobody will ever confuse Hayes’ voice with, say, Roy Orbison. But in this band, on a night such as this, it’s an absolutely perfect interlude. It reminds us that they never – even 30+ years on – take themselves too seriously. And seeing Donnelly and Gent get behind the drums is just plain good fun.
After the lengthy second set, they launched (again, without ever leaving the stage) into a four-song encore. The highlight of this was a powerfully catchy version of 2001’s “The Trench” – that one will stick with me for a long, long time. Close to three hours in (nonstop), more than three dozen songs, with another gig in NYC waiting for them the next day, and The Figgs seemed like they could play another hour. And nobody in the healthy crowd would have left if they did.
It’s almost 2022, and The Figgs have a new record coming out soon. I’m just as excited about that as I was when Low-Fi at Society High came out 27 years ago. That’s no small feat. The Figgs are (to this area) well-deserved rock and roll royalty. See them in January at Caffe Lena, and next summer headlining the very first Nipperfest. You won’t be disappointed.