This year, the Figgs celebrate 25 years as a band. Since Go Metric couldn't afford silver, we instead asked some of our contributors to write about their five favorite Figgs' songs.
by Steve Reynolds
“Lynette” (Ready Steady Stoned cassette, 1993; Hi-Fi Dropouts CD EP, 1994)
I was working in radio in 1994 when Low-Fi at Society High was released. My friend Jocelyn worked at The Figgs then-label Imago and when I told her that it was one of my favorite albums of the year she said, “Oh, cool! I'll make sure you get the vinyl and the 'Favorite Shirt' single.” That single was the Hi-Fi Dropouts EP, and after one listen I wondered how the band could leave off such a great track like "Lynette." The 24 year-old version of me was well versed in unrequited love at that point, and this Hayes/Donnelly composition about a girl met "in a foreign land" was right up my alley. The co-lead vocals from Donnelly and Gent on the opening lines and the pre-chorus get to the heart of why I love this band so much -- their voices are made to complement each other. The first five years I went to their concerts I always knew a song was about to get more intense when Gent would slide over to share the mic with Donnelly.
The other reason this song leads off my chronological list? I've seen 89 Figgs shows as of this writing, and I've only seen them do "Lynette" twice. I felt like a kid on Christmas each time they broke it out.
(And while I enjoy the version recorded for the 1993 cassette Ready Steady Stoned, the band was running on all cylinders and had mastered the song by the time they recorded it with producer Don Gehman during the sessions for Low-Fi.)
“Bad Luck Sammie” (Banda Macho CD, 1996)
Ah, the should-have-been-hit single. I still don't understand why Capitol Records thought "Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend" was the way to lead off Banda Macho. Perhaps they didn’t want to lead with a song written and sung by a dude (guitarist Guy Lyons) that didn’t sing at all on the band's major label debut. Whatever their reasons, they missed out on having Lyons’ tale of a guy whose life is one downfall after another be the song that broke The Figgs. I’ve played for or put "Sammie" on numerous mix tapes and CDs for folks over the past 16 years and I would always get the same reaction: “Who is that? That song is so catchy and so much fun!” I can guarantee someone will yell for it at almost every Figgs show. The guys were smart to keep doing "Sammie" 14 years after Lyons retired, even if the line about "football favorites have always been the Patriots" now makes him seem less like a loser and more like a guy that roots for a dynasty.
“Are You Still Mine?” (Slow Charm CD, 2002)
I went on the road with The Figgs shortly after Slow Charm was released in the fall of 2002. And during that tour there was one song they never played, "Are You Still Mine?" It totally made sense, as the track is very much a product of the studio. It starts with some weird effect done with filters and pedals to create this "doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo" sound that intrigues me still a decade later. Pete Donnelly explained to me how he did it at two different times -- and both times the explanation totally went over my head. Beyond the special effects, it's got some great acoustic guitar fills and has a laid back and sweet vibe unlike any other song in their catalog.
Ever have one of those songs you associate with someone (even though they've probably never heard it) because the lyrics sum up how you feel at the exact right time about that person and you can't actually say the words to them because you're paralyzed by fear? This song was never like this for me. Never.
“Regional Hits” (Follow Jean Through the Sea CD, 2006; Continue to Enjoy the Figgs Volume Two CD, 2007)
Songs about songs are hard to pull off, but Gent nails it here. The first verse is so simple, yet it paints a specific picture that is indelible in my mind:
“What’s that song I heard/Coming from the stereo/I saw girls shaking their hips/and I wanna know, what are they listening to?”
The first time I heard those lines I could immediately see those girls dancing. And then I really wanted to know what got them shaking. Alas, I still don’t know.
As much as I think the studio version is smoking, I have to pick the live take from Continue to Enjoy the Figgs Volume Two. It was recorded in September 2005, before (I believe) the band went in to track the version that was released a year later on Follow Jean Through the Sea. It features guest guitarist Brett Rosenberg, and it’s obvious that he’s not exactly sure where he’s supposed to play in the song. It’s gloriously ragged, and at the end of the second verse Gent yells, “Regional Hits sound so -- the bridge.” The band leaps into bridge, and then after a few bars you can hear Gent say something to Rosenberg (maybe “yeah, play?”) and then he just takes off into this fantastic from the hip solo. Shortly into it Gent yells, “Yeah, keep it going!” And Rosenberg does. It’s such a, well, fucking awesome solo that after it ends you here a woman in the audience yell “woo woo woo” as if it was the greatest thing she’s ever heard. And perhaps it was.
“One Man Fiasco” (The Man Who Fights Himself CD, 2010)
I saw The Figgs when they played this song for the very first time (October 17th, 2008 at Valentine’s in Albany, New York). It’s a mid-tempo track where Gent sings about a man who, like the title character of “Bad Luck Sammie,” has one misfortune after another befall him. (All of them of his own accord.) It definitely had an impact on me that night (and the next evening when they did it again), but I had forgotten about until the band’s release party for The Man Who Fights Himself at Fontana’s in New York in May of 2010.
Before the show Gent told me that his uncle had died and he'd have to travel up to Troy (just down the road from their hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York) in the morning for the funeral. During the set, just before "A One Man Fiasco," Gent told the crowd about his uncle and asked everyone to raise their glasses in honor of him. And every single person did. It was a very moving sight. And then when Gent got to the third verse, well, things got a bit dusty in that basement club:
"Maybe some sleep, will bring a little peace.
The saddest thing I've ever seen.
Family will come, and eventually
All will have to leave."
It was the most emotional moment I've had at a Figgs show in probably a decade and one of my favorite memories from a band that has provided me with plenty of them.