Stumbling out the back door of the Ark after seeing the Subdudes in May 2004, I paused in the alley to get my bearings. A man walked out behind me and, speaking to his companion, summed up the evening: "That was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous."
And so it was. Powerful, bermelodic Americana music (yeah, whatever that means) slathered in soaring four-part harmonies. Tight, unexpected arrangements. Guitar and accordion solos rendered with loving mayhem. Tambourines whomped into submission. Whoa, Nellie.
Born out of a single tossed-together gig at Tipitina's in New Orleans sometime in the late 1980s, grown into one of that town's best-loved bands (and a crowd favorite at numerous Jazzfests), and dismantled in 1996 to general dismay, the Subdudes are back with the organic passion of a thunderstorm. I saw them in 2004 on a Wednesday night, and the Ark was packed to the rafters with delirious, joyful fans who knew all the words by heart and all the players by name. The band pounded out song after funky, soulful, harmony-drenched song. One sensed they could have gone on all night.
The original Subdudes recorded five albums for High Street Records over the course of an enviably successful run of ten years of consistent touring. Then they broke up, a casualty of ten years of consistent touring. Sometimes even Subdudes need a break. During the downtime, several spin-off bands emerged, including Tiny Town, Three Twins, and the Tommy Malone Band. Then, in the spring of 2002, three of the original members, Tommy Malone (vocals, guitar), Steve Amedee (vocals, percussion, mandolin), and John Magnie (vocals, keyboards, accordion, killer goatee), ran into each other in Colorado. They jammed, they liked the result, and in the spring of 2004, the new Subdudes released their first album in eight years, Miracle Mule. Touring with the current incarnation, which returns to the Ark on Tuesday, November 8, are Jimmy Messa (on bass) and former band manager Tim Cook (on bass vox and bass guitar and assorted percussion).
"It kicks!" screamed one woman, when Tommy Malone told the Ark audience that they had a few copies of the new record for sale out in the lobby. Recorded totally to analog tape instead of a computer (guess what — it makes a difference), Miracle Mule features a host of sassy, brazen new Subdude originals. Cut after cut, Malone jabs the high notes like an adolescent spearfisher while everyone else doo-wops, croons, and wails as the moment demands.
The high point of the Ark show? I don't think anyone there would disagree: well into the show, Malone, Amedee, and Magnie left the stage, walking up the aisle toward the door as the house lights came up. Intermission? Meet and greet? We weren't sure. Then they stopped in the middle of the room and began a song from Mule. And they sang, unplugged and acoustically nekkid, to their own private sea of adoring slack-jawed boomers: "It's been known to touch me from time to time. . . ."
[Review published November 2005]