Let's Revue! Bantam Tour 2013
w/Freedy Johnston, Syd Straw, Chris Collingwood and the Shinolas, May 31, 8 p.m., The Kate, Old Saybrook, katharinehepburntheater.org; June 2, 5 p.m., SS&C SummerWind Performing Arts Center, Windsor, sscsummerwind.org.
Fans of the Shinolas have a reason to get excited again. The quartet returns to SS&C SummerWind Performing Arts Center in Windsor this summer as part of the Let's Revue! Bantam Tour 2013, along with Fountains of Wayne frontman Chris Collingwood, singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston and Syd Straw of the Michael Stipe-Matthew Sweet supergroup Golden Palominos.
"For us, this is a novel thing because it's a local/regional band reaching out to national artists," said guitarist Jim Chapdelaine. "If this tour works, maybe we'll do it a few times a year. It's a bunch of like-minded people."
Johnston, named Songwriter of the Year by Rolling Stone in 1994, is probably best known for his hit "Bad Reputation" and his great 1992 album Can You Fly? "Freedy was a guy whose music I always loved," Chapdelaine said. "I went to see him solo, and he covered an NRBQ song. I said, 'Why don't you come play with us?'" Johnston did, at last year's Summerwind, but the weather had other plans. "As soon as Freedy got onstage, there was this enormous electrical storm. We got through two songs and we all ran for cover. We told him to come back this year and we'd finish the set."
The Shinolas have had to pull back a little over the past year or so. By 2011, the quartet — formed in 2008 by Chapdelaine and drummer Lorne Entress, both of whom wanted to play a Hartford-area gig on a regular basis — was gaining fans by the week. Chapdelaine, Entress, bassist Paul Kochanski and pedal steel wizard Ed Iarusso seemingly could play anything they wanted to, and there was much they wanted to play. They had already won the Advocate's Grand Band Slam reader's poll for Best Country Band in 2009, and there was talk of an album. Connecticut had found its house band.
Chapdelaine's health issues began to resurface. Diagnosed at 26 with angiosarcoma, a rare cancer (it's more common in dogs than in humans) with a slightly greater than zero percent survival rate (a Facebook survivor's page, Chapdelaine told me, has only 14 members), the lanky guitarist has endured over 60 surgeries, five in the last two years alone. His nose, he said, is partially reconstructed from ear tissue. The lingering effects of chemotherapy (a melanoma that surfaced on his back, for example) continue to be a nuisance. After a recent emergency back surgery, he now struggles to feel two fingers in his left hand (his "money" hand), while his right, which is missing a joint at the base of his thumb, has trouble holding a pick. (He occasionally uses tape.)
Visiting with Chapdelaine, however, you realize: he's living his dream. He has 12 Emmys. His enviable West Hartford studio is lined with dozens of guitars, mics, amps, racks of compressors, toy pianos, effects pedals and cables snaked all over the place. Raw video of a recent Rubblebucket performance, from a Live at Infinity Hall taping (he mixes the audio for the CPTV series), plays on his oversized computer screen; he can work at his own pace, at any hour. He reviews equipment for a leading trade magazine, teaches audio engineering at the Hartt School (two interns were waiting downstairs when I exited), hangs out with ex-NRBQ guitarist Big Al Anderson, travels frequently for gigs and session work, and still does his regular Monday-night gig with the Shinolas at the Main Pub in Manchester. He's the real deal, a lifer.
"We're all sidemen," Chapdelaine, who grew up in West Suffield, said of his group. "We all do this full-time." After returning from a one-nighter in Chicago, he thought, "This is insane. Let's play 10 minutes from where we live... It just turned into something." National-level artists passing through would sit in — Collingwood (a Western Mass. resident), Anderson, the Smithereens' Pat Dinizio, Jon Pousette-Dart, many others. The Shinolas became Anderson's backing band when he plays in the Northeast. Left to their own devices, however, they play original songs and covers, eclectic ones, always reimagined, Chapdelaine said.
After an opening number by the Shinolas, each first set on the Let's Revue! tour will feature Johnston, Straw and Collingwood, in that order; second sets are for duets and ensembles, with everyone involved "as much as they want to be." Straw suggested the Moody Blues' "Knights in White Satin," which she'll sing as a duet with Collingwood. There'll always be at least five people on stage.
"These artists are really versatile," Chapdelaine said. "People might associate them with a certain song — Chris with [Fountains of Wayne's] 'Stacy's Mom,' and so on — but that's not going to happen. These guys are vital writers. So we'll do hits in the first set and some in the second, but it'll be a little more loosey-goosey. We'll bring them into our house."