Thursday, November 2, 2017


This is certainly a year for endings, isn’t it?

On October 20th, we went to the Towne Crier Cafe for the penultimate show of the Bobs Farewell Tour.  The final show was the following night and was streamed live online. Here’s hoping they release it as a disc or download, because this tour, like all of their live shows, was hysterically funny, and musically impressive.

The Bobs have been around since 1981.  There’s an excellent short history on their site, and Matthew is blogging a longer and more detailed one. 

As self-proclaimed “New Wave Acapella” they put their personal spin on many types of music, both covering songs that one wouldn't expect in that style, and a majority of original tunes.  They’ve done rock, polka, funk, classical, country, Latin, Gregorian chants, punk and pretty much everything in between.

When I’d bring them up, people used to say, “You mean Rockapella,” though more recently it’s been, “You mean Pentatonix.”  The answer to either was, “No, this group is older, catchier, funnier and cleverer...erer.”

My friend Scott introduced me to them in college.  He spent enough time in California to discover the then Berkeley based band before they were regularly gigging in the east, and showing up on PBS, on the Emmys, on film soundtracks and other mass market media.

Considering I usually sing along to the bass lines in the car anyway, their albums immediately became regular driving music.  I mean…I can’t sing at all, but Richard’s is the range I can’t sing at all best in.

I also made any excuse I could to get a set with them on our college radio comedy show.

“We haven’t played ‘Banana Love’ in a while, I’ve got the Jungle Book soundtrack, grab the Harry Chapin album.”

Every release after I graduated made me wish I still had a radio show.  I would have played the heck out of “Spontaneous Human Combustion,” my daughter’s favorite.  That’s only one song in a library of over a dozen albums of their incredible mix of high end musical skill and execution, with ridiculous, yet often erudite comedy that deserve prominent air time.

Speaking of the radio show, to use an inside joke only about five people will get, not only was the Town Crier food always fantastic, but they serve water in blue bottles that accurately sound blue!

As a guide to how long I’ve listened to this group, my ITunes playlists still refer to their early albums as “Scott’s Bobs,”  and were an upload of a CD, that was burned from a cassette that I recorded off a vinyl album.  (I have upgraded all of them, when I could find them on CD, out of respect for the band, however.)

As another guide to their longevity, the two “new members” Angie and Dan, have been with the band five years and thirteen years respectively. 

Or how about this?  They’ve owned the website “” from pretty much before the internet existed- talent and technological foresight. (Edit Sep 2018- Sadly, after retiring, they've given/sold this to the furniture store, and their site is now )

I’ve gotten to experience most of their incarnations in person having attended live shows in a variety of venues.  Those included multiple shows in the Towne Crier, one of the first places to bring them east.  I’ve seen them play a range from the prestigious McCarter Theater in Princeton, to a church in Madison New Jersey.

That last was one of my favorite shows I saw. (Don’t ask me to pick a favorite song, my daughter tried and ended up in a lengthy conversation with me humming a lot, and her doubting her own selection each time I brought up another song.) It’s not because of what they performed, that’s always awesome. It’s because most of the audience didn't realize the band would be downstairs selling stuff afterwards. The Bobs hung around chatting for quite a while after the show ended.  That was normal, but because of the confusion, there was only a few of us with them. Matthew always seemed to be the last one interacting with the fans, and that show was no different.  He was telling us about the art projects he was considering now that the record company had returned stacks of vinyl to them.

That was one of Dan’s earliest shows as well. He had to have written lyric sheets for “White Room,” which he completely owned anyway.   

The changing members have altered the sound a bit over the years, and it was always cool how they worked old numbers with new members.  Their opener, “Ain’t Nobody Here but us Chickens” I think has been done, and done impressively, by every version of the group.

When Gunnar (a creative force of the early group) left, Joe brought in a great deal more vocal percussion, altered microphones and other sound effects. The highlight of their original “White Room” was his “guitar” solo. 

Dan came in with a more soulful and scat filled voice.  His vocals made the song stand out in the new version to such a point that they rerecorded it on an album with him.

Yet they performed just as well on sweet, straight forward four part harmonies, like the "Druid Song" first introduced in the Amy years.

Amy brought in a bunch of her own writing and performing style when she joined the team, and Angie did the same over the last five years.   The lone female in the group, dating back to original long time member Janie, has always sung with a combination of sultry vocals, melodiousness, belting ability, and humorous interpretation.  Each of them, including “short timer” Lori, had a different specialty of them, though Angie may have the best balance.

They were also all snarky, which probably came from being the lone female member, but it was an area of consistency that stayed along with the musical range.   I’m much better at noticing comedy consistency than musical.  I know Janie was hired off a call sheet for altos, and then given the high parts anyway.  Her replacements were similar, or were sopranos that had to sing the alto parts on the older songs.

Gunnar, Joe and Dan were all theoretically tenors and/ or baritones...maybe. They all often sang (or made other musical type noises) at both higher and lower pitches than Matthew, who I know was a tenor.  They were, however, all various versions of wacky.

Richard sang bass in every version of the band.  Joining with Matthew and Gunnar at the beginning with a background as a recording engineer, he also was the primary songwriter/ arranger for the group through the years. He weaved their voices together in amazing and award winning ways.  He also wielded a sense of humor so dry that it was easy to mistake him for the assigned straight man.

I think half the audience missed him saying the vehicle they drove to gigs in was called a sequoia because it was, “twenty feet tall and two thousand years old.”

Matthew sang tenor fantastically, and his leads and backup vocals were always um…whatever the proper musician term for clear, delightful and musical is.  His little asides and expressions, like in "Mr. Duality" added a great deal of entertainment.   It’s his voice I hear when I think of “the Bobs sound,” even though I sing along (poorly) to Richard's part. (Yes, I'm odd, we've established that.)  In any case, it’s really weird, and a little sad hearing him accompanied by instruments with his new combo group, even though they're really good.   

As far as humor, he was goofy from day one.  The reason my wife’s favorite of their songs is, “Slow Down Krishna”  has almost nothing to do with the terminal catchiness of the song itself, but Matthew’s over the top (even for him) goofball antics when singing it.   He showcased some of those moves in “Tight Pants Tango” this time around.  "Krishna" is one of several another long time live songs, this one from back in the way beginning when they were a trio which is likely why it wasn't in this show or several others we've seen,  that took years  to get on an album.  The opener is another number like that.  Another song of that group they did was "Kill Your Television," the bumper sticker song that Richard's daughter Ashley went out into Berkeley to gather information for. Bonus- she was at the show all growed up! 

The mix of the four senses of humor is why I loved seeing them live. Sure the songs themselves were wonderful. The unique arrangements that often shouldn’t work without instruments were all fantastically performed, and any live performance of truly talented singers is always better than a recording.

But it’s the interactions in between numbers where their personalities shone that added insane amounts of entertainment to the evenings.

Something I’d seen in an earlier show (although every performance is different with the Bobs) as well as this one came during Richard’s arrangement and singing of Randy Newman’s “Lonely at the Top.” The song was a beautiful sounding melancholy number.  However, Matthew’s fooling around at the start when assigned the massive responsibility (according to Richard) of covering the bass line of the song made me laugh so hard my face hurt.

Once he was finally ready to sing, Dan decided to find some other reasons to delay, generating some additional prime comments from Angie…while Richard wandered over to look at the pianos on the side of the stage and use the “withering look” that Matthew was trying to practice back at the start of the shenanigans.

I’ll follow any individual careers, as they all have far too much talent to ignore. But  I will greatly miss them all together, from the online updates that gave peeks into their artistic and nutty world, their CD releases that generated constant in car sing along (which reveal how their long tour based car trips was the source of many of their songs) and of course, the amazing fun of their live shows.

I was thrilled they hiked out east for the final leg of the tour, allowing my family to see them.
First of all, to allow me to say thank you for the years of entertainment in person.
(And Dan said he liked my "Bow Tie Fighter" Shirt!  How cool is that?)

Secondly, and just as important, so my daughter could see them live. 

We had a conflict the last time they came to the Town Crier, and I think the previous time we caught them was the Madison Church one.  My daughter was too little to go then, but I was able to tell them this time with her standing next to me at nearly my height, that she watched the DVD we bought at that show dancing in her play pen.

Matthew immediately apologized to her for giving her a twisted childhood.

I told him I twisted it enough on my own but appreciated the help.

The final show contained a mix of their entire career, going back to three tracks from their first album.  “Helter Skelter” had a Grammy nominated arrangement, “Art for Art Sake” was the favorite of the owner of the Town Crier, and “Cowboy Lips” (the original, non barber shop version) was just fun.  There were numbers from the other early releases as well, “Helmet” and a couple of songs from “The Laundry Cycle.”  A bit of Bobs trivia I did not know: A fan of theirs works at the Jet Propulsion Lab and since what the signal is doesn't matter, uses “Pounded on a Rock,” with both extents of Richard’s powerful and subtle lead vocals, to wake the Mars Rover every day. 

Number one on Mars for decades!!  Woo!!!

 (For Bobs fans, the other song from the cycle was the wonderful romantic ballad, "Share a Load.")

The set list went through the discography; up to include several tracks from their most recent release, the catchy, funny and educational Biographies album.  There were also their classic audience participation songs- “Sign My Snarling Doggie” with Bark-a-long, and the unreleased “Get Party Trained” (Huh!)

The show ended with the incredibly high energy “White Room,” (the other of my wife’s favorites) one more of their songs where the humor isn’t obvious unless it’s seen live…in which case it’s hysterical.  The “guitar distorting microphone” didn't work…but it only proved that the Bobs really didn’t need it, succeeding the same way they have for thirty-six years, with their voices alone.

This was confirmed in the encore.  The song was “Guilty” an unrecorded gem that featured the four of them standing there with no extra theatrics, doing what they do best:

Singing a fantastically  arranged and harmonious set of lyrics that produced both musical beauty, and laugh out loud comedy.

Thanks again for everything Bobs…

Fine, funny and free wheeling music will continue, however.  Richard produced (and cameo-ed on) Angie and Dan’s Duet album - one done, and done fantastically well might I add, and another one coming. Angie and Dan already said they'd be touring, and back to the Town Crier.  With Richard's involvement, it lends a glimmer of hope of a possible full reunion someday.

If you click on any of the song titles, it will take you to the album it appears on. (Or click here for all of them.)   Trust me, they're all good.  Why not get a couple to enjoy the art for yourself, and let the Bobs know they will always be wanted.  

Note- Video and some photo (not the blurry ones) credits to Anabelle, great job kiddo!


longbow said...

Actually, I first saw The Bobs at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia at some food & music fest in the summer of '88 right before college

longbow said...

Is there a LIVE recording of "Get your monkey off my dog" ? that may be my fav

Jeff McGinley said...

Oh OK, did you see them in California after that, so I'm not a total liar? Thanx again for the introduction to their musical awesomeness.

I don't think I ever saw that one live, which is a shame.

thanx again

longbow said...

I saw them in Santa Monica either during a school break or in the interval between my leaving school and returning to the Capital District. Later, I saw them many times in Berkeley and once in Redwood City, CA.

Jeff McGinley said...

Well, I'm still completely wrong, but somehow I feel better about it.