Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's another Pleasant Valley Saturday

The name’s kind of a joke. Not the first part, of course. That’s straight from old wooden teeth, Georgie Washington. Supposedly, back in 1780, he was hanging on the Salisbury side of the river, waiting for a ferry to get him across to the proper side, and made a comment on what a “pleasant valley” it was. No, it’s the second part of the name — the social club business, that is, well, if not exactly a joke, then a phrase tossed out with just a hint of irony — though, to be fair, it’s probably not “more like a medieval guild than a social club,” as Pleasant Valley Social Club drummer Jeff Philcrantz says. No, it’s not a medieval guild or a social club. Not quite. Even though the members of the “club” are all pals and hang out together at least one day a week. They get together after ditching their days jobs, they play some music, they have a good time. “It’s like we’re walking on air,” says Bill Plante, who has been playing music in the area since the fabled old days — the early ‘90s. “It’s exhilarating. We’re doing music for music’s sake, we con’t care about the music industry, we’re a social club. We just have a ball playing. We do it for the love of it.” Says Philcrantz, “We pay a lot of attention to craft, and we have open exchanges of ideas that are sometimes brutally honest. It’s definitely a check-your-egos-at-the-door vibe. But it’s also incredibly energizing. I can’t count the times I’ve showed up, beat from work, and left hours later with a bounce in my step.” 

Aside from a few high-profile shows, like the benefit for Lucien Parkin and a show at this year’s Harvest Festival, which attracted and held hundreds of listeners through three sets in Market Square, Pleasant Valley Social Club doesn’t get out all that much, despite the fact that “there are literally dozens of dollars in this business,” says Plante. Mostly it’s just a bunch of old fellas getting their musical kicks in the privacy of the rehearsal room, but they’ll take it to the streets next week, kicking off the Firehouse’s “10 for 20” series, celebrating two decades of arts programming at the Market Square venue. 

Pleasant Valley Social Club is a new band, relatively speaking, going back, in one form or another, five years, but the roots of the guys in the band provide a direct link to the fabled old days, the early 1970s, when a thriving local music scene opened up a rough-and-tumble town to the outside, planting the seeds of the “creative economy,” turning old, weird Newburyport into a destination. It started as a trio, with Plante, Philcrantz and bassist Ed Passarella. Then last year, the “club” doubled its membership, adding Tod Campbell (mandolin, percussion),   James Fitzgerald on guitar and flautist Albert Lamar. The big moment for the band came late last year, when PVSC performed with virtually every other local act, it seems, at the I Love Lucian celebration of recovery concert. “It reminded us that there’s still a really, really good music scene in Newburyport,” says Plant. “We want to do it again and involve other people.”

The sound is difficult to pin down. Think American with a dash of soul. It’s an eclectic sound — pop, folk, roots. They play originals and covers, new songs and old songs heard in new ways. The set list ranges from Plante’s “Katrina Blues,” a New Orleans/street-beat number, to “Fisherman’s Wife,” a Passarella number with a female Gloucester focus, but set to a Motown groove. Paul MacNeil’s beautiful “Love Was Easy” is transformed into a power ballad, while “Sweet Self Again” is a gospel funk sendup that Plante revived from his days in the Los Angeles scene of the 1970s. Other songs, like “Night Fire,” have a decidedly Celtic-rock feel. “Nothin’ But The Blues” is a Duke Ellington/Jimmy Witherspoon classic with a dash of Mose Allison and a side of Basie, Plante says. They also do a reggae version of “Layla,” but that won’t be part of the show.

“The songs are the heart of this group,” Plante says. “As lifelong songwriters, we have a pretty deep catalogue to pull from. Because we are not a working band, per se, we don’t have to worry about whether a tune will stand up in a bar or nightclub environment. It’s a luxury, having the time to really hone arrangements, in ways that support the lyrics. We can use space – silence – to create meaning … hard to do in a club, but wonderfully suited for a venue like the Firehouse.”

"The love of music comes through," says Passarella. "It's a simple thing, yet there is truly a human hunger for music played for music's sake."

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Pleasant Valley Social Club performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. The lineup includes bassist Ed Passarella, drummer Jeff Philcrantz, keyboardist Bill Plante, mandolinist Tod Campbell, guitarist James Fitzgerald and flautist Albert Lamar. Special guests will include Liz Frame and Lynne Taylor from the Kickers and David Drouin from The Brew. Tickets are $16, or $14 for members of the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities, the non-profit organization that manages the Firehouse. For more information, call 978-462-7336 or log onto

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog spot! Adds to that pleasant valley feel!