Saturday, March 23, 2019

Reign of Angels, The Basals, Funhouse

About three weeks ago, Denise came to me all excited. She'd been up on Facebook, and had seen that The Basals were doing a Reunion Show at Katie's of Smithtown. The Basals were one of our best-friend bands from the late nineties/early two thousands, and in fact Mike Epstein, their leader/bass player, had recorded The Slant's first album, Try This, at his business, Dare Studios. Over the years, we had seen the band dozens of times, from tiny clubs to opening gigs for bands like Berlin and Bow Wow Wow.

I think it was Tom, The Slant's keyboard player, and myself who first discovered The Basals. We went to a semi-final round show for the Long Island Music Festival to support our friends Crystal Rose, and totally fell in love with The Basals. They had a kind of cool Blondie vibe going, and lead singer Holli had this amazing voice -- in the middle of one of their songs, "Constantly Turning", she even broke into an operatic section. The Slant shared the stage with them several times over the years, and we attended their live shows whenever we could.

To sweeten the pot for this particular show, we learned that Mike Ferrari's old band Reign of Angels (which he shared with Sean Crusher of Jones Crusher) was also playing, and a third band, Funhouse, (which also featured Sean Crusher) was closing the show. I immediately put it on my calendar.

I took a fairly light day today, and grabbed a 3-hour nap as well, so by the time Denise woke me up at 7, I was ready.

I wasn't sure exactly where Katie's was, but I figured it had to be one of the clubs right near the Smithtown Performing Arts Center. It turned out I was right. I actually thought it might have been the old Molly Bloom's directly across the street from the PAC, but it was actually a much smaller venue a couple of blocks further west on Main St.

We parked next to this nice looking Portuguese Restaurant, and if I had known it was there, we'd have left earlier and had dinner there. (Maybe next time).

We entered the club, and immediately ran into Mike Ferrari and Sean Sanders (aka, Sean Crusher), who gave us a warm greeting. There weren't many seats left in the place, so I started to scan my surroundings to see what I could find. (I knew I wasn't going to be able to stand for 3 hours). As we walked through the back of the club, we were hailed by Kevin McLeod, who had also come out to support the night.

I felt bad, because I'd been planning to go see Kevin and his band play out last Friday. But I was kind of wiped that night (it took me all week to get my energy back from that Fleetwood Mac show), so I had stayed home. I promised to catch him the next time he and his band played out, though.

We chatted briefly with Kevin, and with Mike Epstein who came over to say hello (and we somehow wound up talking about the "Death of Richard Hughes" story I posted here a few months ago.) Then, I spied an empty bar stool over near the sound board, which I set Denise up on. Then, on the other side of the room, I saw a metal folding chair folded up and leaning up against the wall. I checked it out, thinking it might be busted. Happily, it was fine. I brought it back across the room and opened it up next to Denise, and we were set for the night. I quickly grabbed us a couple of diet cokes, and by the time I had them in hand, Reign of Angels was going on.

When Denise and I first met Mike Ferrari, Reign of Angels was already a thing of the past -- Mike had basically given up on live performing, and was mostly concentrated on being Jones Crusher's record label. I did catch one other Reign of Angels reunion show at a Jones Crusher gig, though, so I'd seen them once before.

The band performed tonight as a four-piece, with Mike singing lead, and Sean flanking him to his left, playing lead guitar, then later switching to bass. I don't think they ever recorded an album, so I really wasn't familiar with their material. As it turned out, they had a cool, dark vibe that reminded me a little of Echo and the Bunnymen, especially on a song that I think was called "Empty". Mike's promotional material for the show jokingly compared his vocals to those of William Shatner, but he doesn't have a bad voice. In any event, we enjoyed their set.

Midway through, I spied a familiar face. Back when we used to frequent the Basals shows, there were two young women that we got used to seeing at every show, Kirsten and Michelle. I saw Kirsten at the bar, and called to her. Unsurprisingly, Michelle was also nearby. They joined us in our spot in the corner of the room, and hung out with us the rest of the night. (I later said hi to Mike Ferrari's wife Lori. I also saw Eddie Havok of Media Crime across the room, although I never got a chance to say hello to him.)

Reign of Angels did what seemed like a fairly short set. After a short break between sets, The Basals took the stage.

Holli joked about brushing off the cobwebs, but the band sounded great to me. (I didn't recognize the drummer or the guitarist, but they did an excellent job.) They played a solid 13-song set that included most of my favorites, including "Fine" (a reworked version of  "Constantly Turning"), "Distant in the Streets" and "Dive" off their first album Dive, and "Apology" off of their self-titled second album. They also played "Dog's Life" from the Dive album, a song Denise and Tom liked so much that The Slant occasionally covered it. And they made my night by closing with my favorite Basals song, "We Belong". It really brought me back to the nineties.

Now I had assumed that Funhouse was a new project of Sean Crusher's. But in between the second and third sets of the night, I spoke briefly with Mike Epstein, who explained that Funhouse was actually the first band that ever rehearsed at Dare Studios. Sean hadn't previously been a member of the band, but was filling in tonight for the band's old bass player, who couldn't make the gig.

We figured we'd stay for a few songs, at least. But it turned out that we enjoyed their sound enough that we stayed for their full set. This was another band with some pronounced '80s influences, including Echo and the Bunnymen (I think I have them on the brain because I've had the Crocodiles CD out in my car all week), The Psychedelic Furs and The Cure. I also heard traces of Joy Division and Modern English, and the guitar riffs on one of the songs sounded very influenced by The Edge of U2. Interestingly enough, though, their one cover song of the night wasn't of an eighties band. Instead they covered an obscure Interpol song. (Go figure). In any event, we definitely enjoyed Funhouse. They did a nice job of capping off a fun evening of music.

These days, Mike and Holli of The Basals mostly play out as part of the Fleetwood Mac tribute band Fleetwood Macked. It might be a while until the next Basals reunion, but Fleetwood Macked plays out fairly often, and I know they have an upcoming date at The Paramount.

The Basals' full setlist for this show can be found at

I'll have more music to write about tomorrow night.