Tuesday, February 12, 2013


In the late 1990s Laurie and I were part of the loyal following of an a capella vocal sextet called Five O'Clock Shadow. Excellent musicians, they were also smart, funny and likable, onstage and off. We knew Mike and Bill as soloists/section leaders in our choir, and the others from chatting with them after performances.

Justin and his friend Nathan were Shadow fans as well. Barely in high school and thus way under age, they were always trying to get into Johnny D's in Somerville to see them. They were allowed in when they came with us; once they talked their way in by themselves, by claiming acquaintance with Bill. Largely inspired by the Shadow, Nathan started his own a capella group at Arlington High.

One night at Johnny D's the guys were performing their cover of Tea in the Sahara. Dan, the baritone, sang the lead from stage front and center; Bill, Warren and Dave harmonized behind him and a bit to his left; and Mike and Wes, bass and vocal percussion, exercised their stabilizing influence face to face on the other side of the stage.

Somebody made a joke -- they did a lot of that -- and everybody laughed. Ordinarily, of course, the laughter would run a brief course and the Shadow resume singing. That night, whatever cosmic forces govern stage performances kept them all laughing. The audience smiled and chuckled as the guys struggled to collect themselves and allow Dan to continue. Eventually they got the lid on it and carried on tentatively, recovery solidifying note by note.

Then Wes said something I didn't hear. Probably no one did except Mike. Mike's from-the-bottom-of-the-earth deep voice answered, "That's why they call me a bass."

Whatever the joke was, it destroyed Wes. He caved in, helpless with laughter, dragging Mike with him. After a minute or two of this with no end in sight, Bill, Warren and Dave withdrew to the back of the stage and sat down in a row (rather like the three evil-denying monkeys): knees drawn up, heads bowed, waiting patiently for order to restore itself. Dan, left standing in the middle of the stage clutching his microphone, muttered, "Of all the songs I always thought we couldn't train-wreck . . . ." But nothing, of course, is certain in show business.

Eventually Mike and Wes calmed down, decorum  prevailed, and Tea in the Sahara proceeded according to plan. Many who were in the audience that night must remember this incident, as I do, as an endearing moment in the saga of Five O'Clock Shadow.