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Friday, July 2, 2010

One Big Playground

One Big Playground:
Marcy Playground and Seven Mary Three Co-Headline Week Two of Stamford’s Alive@Five Series
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved

Stamford, CT – I was in the “pen” again for another salvo of rockin’ tunes in this second week of Stamford’s Columbus Park Alive@Five concert series. It was a fine day with a stiff breeze, almost identical conditions to last week – minus the F1 tornado that had lashed the region that is!

First band on the slate: Superband, Week Two winners of the city’s Battle of the Bands contest, held last month around town. They jump right into their set with a nice mix of covers and originals, thumpin’ snares and the fine vocals of lead singer ZuZu Ramos. The latter’s a full-figured gal with wavy brown hair, mirrored shades, skin tight jeans, a lower lip ring and white tee with a monkey’s face and the slogan “The Party Has Arrived”. She brings the crowd to their feet with a bangin’ tambourine and a rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (“Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know, when logic and proportion…”). Backing her up is Jason Peyser on drums, Joey Ramos on bass guitar, Larry Nardi on rhythm guitar, Dan Neafsey on lead guitar and vocals, and Jon Ringel on keyboards.

Their beats start drawing the sheep to the feeder – faces young, old and in between -- all grazing for a good time. Above them, secured to a main stage support, the banner identifying evening sponsor Stamford Marriott Hotel and Spa flaps in the breeze.

Straw Hat Guy is here tonight again. A rabid fan who parks himself and two sports chairs right up front, he comes armed with assorted instruments, like tambourines and maracas, and raps out a beat – an unpaid band appendage.

Superband makes faces glow now with Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” (“when she’s gone”), then belts out some funk and tips in a sax. They’re drilling for smiles and hit paydirt, a gusher of good vibes spilling out over the crowd.

A little two-stepping erupts when they lay down an original, “Takin’ Your Time”. This audience is up for anything!

At the back of the crowd, about center on the event site footprint, another cool cat was sitting in. A sculpture installation created by artist Joseph DeMarco, the sax-playing feline in multi-colored garb was blowing silent notes beside a bed of flowers. The latter is part of “It’s Reigning Cats and Dogs: Art in Public Spaces”, a city-hosted outdoor exhibit running June through August.

There were other hip cats here including the ladies at the Heineken beer booth, as well as the folks at Hob Nob Wine, both major event sponsors. The latter was serving up Patch Block Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in large bottles with colorful labels.

Superband started laying down the Beatles classic “Dear Prudence”, doing a little guitar improv as Derek Signore, publisher of SOUND magazine took in the scene and distributed copies of his new July issue.

Stamford’s Bomb Squad was on the scene again, protecting the citizenry from those that would do evil. They looked very official in their shades, black combat boots and blue outfits, though a snoozing, sand-colored Labrador laying on the pavement beside one officer didn’t look too “on the job” as they say on the force.

The ladies that would be attending the after-parties at places like 84 Park were starting to appear, their trademark tight lounge wear, cleavage-baring tops and stiletto heels making them highly noticeable in the otherwise casually dressed assemblage.

S.B. concluded its set and the event emcees started tossing out tees. People fell over themselves to grab the logo’d trinkets promoting NBC Universal shows.

In the food court area, Cox Radio stations 95.9 The Fox and 96.7 The Coast had teamed up with Scion of Stamford to offer a new purple Scion. Participants had to sing the automaker’s theme song. Clips are recorded, tagged with the entrant’s name and judged by the dealer.

Motoring to the stage now was alt rock band Marcy Playground, led by John Wozniak and named after his grade school hangout spot. Formed in 1996, their out-of-the-box hit was “Sex and Candy”, a folky track that scored a #1 slot on Billboard charts in ‘97. Besides Wozniak, band members include Dylan Keefe (bass) and Shlomi Lavie (drums).

Today, MP was oozing out “Rock and Roll Heroes”. In the merch area adjacent to the stage, tees carried the title “Leaving Wonderland… in a Fit of Rage”, one of three records the band has released since their formation. The other two are “Shapeshifter” and “MP3”.

It was near 6:30, the sun was low in the sky and the contents of the distinctive green cans of Heineken folks were sucking down needed to be absorbed with some food. It was Remo’s Pizza to the rescue, serving it up hot and cheesy, like MP’s next tune “Punk Rock Superstar”.

Hanging on the perimeter of the crowd was Juanita Wiggins, 41, Nicole Dumas, 34, and Juanita’s daughter Shani, 15. When asked to sum up their experience here thus far, Wiggins said, “We’re enjoying the sun, had come out the house to listen to the band and to see some familiar faces… Good or bad, I love it. I had moved to North Carolina, but missed this, so came back.”

Nearby, the beer court erected in front of Tiernan’s bar was enjoying a full house of thirsty folks. Most were tipping back PBRs and Bud Lights. Leaning on the corral’s fence was Lou from Stamford and Meg from Norwalk, both employed as editors by WWE. “We try to come to three to four shows a year,” said Lou. “If I like the band, that helps.”  Added Meg, “The entire line-up (tonight) is from my middle school years. It’s great!”

Like a mastodon cry, from the back of the pack there was the lone bellow of a red Vuvuzela, the type of horn that’s become a mainstay at World Cup soccer matches. The Vuvuzeler turned out to be Tyler Buckley, 27, from Norwalk, who was accompanied by Dale Rowley, 28, of Stamford. They were drinking Hob Nob wine and taking it all in. “We like people watching, number one, and Marcy’s Playground, number two,” said Dale. “I have their CD from, like, 15 years ago!”

“Hangin’ round downtown by myself…” Woz began to croon. The familiar opening lyrics of “Sex and Candy” got people instantly jamming, singing along and swaying. Straw Hat Guy was actually recruited to the stage, with a maraca in one hand and tambourine in the other, to accompany. “Big hand for George everybody!” said Woz as the song wrapped, the crowd cheered and he pointed to Straw Hat Guy.

MP’s bow-out song, as the sun continued to sink, was the tune “Hallelujah”, written by Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen but popularized by American singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley. Unfortunately, Woz’s guitar (or his speaker) started acting up and giving some reverb. “That’s bad,” someone nearby commented. The sound engineer rushed up to the stage, but could only shrug. Woz muddled through the sorrowful ballad and the band made a graceful exit.

Sandella’s Flatbread CafĂ© was serving chicken fajita quesadillas, gooey and warm in wax paper, and music goers here clambered over each other for the eats. They must have thought they were t-shirts!

Co-headliners Seven Mary Three was the final act and the crowd was full throttle at this point. Rocking out with white wine in hand was Stephanie Hutchison of Fairfield and pal Heather Hendrickson of Westport. Both had just arrived and were already whooping and keeping a beat in place.

Very intense, very flanneled and very bearded, lead singer Jason Ross set the pace with a booming voice. Stroking their strings along with him, bassist Casey Daniel and guitarist Thomas Juliano provided support. On the skins, Mike Levesque rapped out the beats.

“7M3” were 90s stars from Williamsburg, Virginia that debuted with an album called “Churn”. It got grassroots play on a rock station in Florida and they subsequently moved to the Sunshine State to be nearer their fan base. The group is best known for their single, “Cumbersome”. Their latest album is “Backbooth”.

Heads were really bobbing, and Heinie cans glowed in the sunset. The suds were sinking in as Ross warbled, “I have become… cumbersome.” The melody set off grins of delight on the faces of the following, in full tilt mode.

“This is us trying to be Johnny Cash,” said Ross as the band followed up with “Upside Down”. Star 99.9 beach balls were fully airborne now, and getting carried by gusty winds that had kicked up. A chill had also settled in, and second layers of clothing began to go around bare shoulders. The red, white and blue gel lights, in honor of the forthcoming July 4th weekend, glowed on the officially named Heineken Stage.

“What an ass-shaking great time!” hollered dynamic duo Stephanie and Heather, as they rock and rolled what their mommas gave them. It was a good summary of the time had by all here.

Alive@Five Week Two… you're history!