Smash a Glass and Shout: Too Much Joy Rocks Cambridge

Inside the third and final stop on the reunited band’s mini-tour

Tim Quirk of Too Much Joy (Image: Doug Quintal)

Too Much Joy came to our town Tuesday night. Did they help us party it down? 

You bet they did! Or as, singer Tim Quirk said on line beforehand, responding to that question: “We’re an American band!”

They are and that town was Cambridge, Mass., the third and final stop on what Quirk called their “grueling” three-date tour in support of their excellent new album All These Fucking Feelings. (The other stops were at Jammin Java in Vienna, Virginia and the Mercury Lounge in New York City.) The five fellas in Too Much Joy, all of whom who met in a Scarsdale, NY, grade school, are now well into middle-age, as was most of the crowd at the club called Sonia’s.

Coincidentally (or not), Sonia’s occupies the same space this band played when in the Boston area roughly 35 years ago. Then, it was TT the Bear’s, under different ownerships. (More about that TT’s gig later.) The space was taken over by the owners of the adjacent Middle East Clubs and remodeled five years ago.

“I know it’s the night after Halloween,” guitarist Jay Blumenfield said from the stage, early in the 100-minute set, “and we’re all old and shit, but let’s pretend it’s the night before Halloween, Mischief Night.”

Central to the Too Much Joy experience – at whatever age they or you might be – is humor, but not humor that makes the music ha-ha “jokey.” As Quirk told me, when I talked to him for a TMJ piece for the site last year, “There are funny lines and plenty of them, there’s also an undercurrent of depression and resignation and dismay.” 

Too Much Joy rock Cambridge (Image: Doug Quintal)

It works as rock, or pop – and the band’s rough rawness in Cambridge titled it toward rock – and the lyrics supplement the twin-guitar-powered hooks, of which there are many. They’re kind of a poor man’s Cheap Trick in that way, sans pretty boy singer and geeky guitarist.

It began with “Susquehanna Hat Company” – the audience cheering as it recognized the riff – and wound through various touchstones in TMJ’s career, “King of Beers,” “Long Haired Guys from England,” (the hookiest) “Donna Everywhere,” “Drum Machine,” “Clowns” and “Crush.” TMJ takes the piss out of others; they take the piss out of themselves. It’s an equal opportunity kind of band.

When they got to the 1991 song “Worse,” Quirk noted that the line “Things are getting worse” had as much resonance thirty years down the line. I mean, they thought it was bad then … look where we are now with the ominous mid-terms ahead.

I won’t say there weren’t a few dead zones or fuckups. They had to stop/start one song – I think Quirk forgot a verse. Didn’t matter much. They ground to a halt, regrouped, kicked back in.

The night’s surprise: The first encore was Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods,” which featured, yes, original Gang of Four drummer Hugo Burnham on guest drums, giving Tommy Vinton a break. There was some logic to this. “It was one of the first song we ever learned,” Quirk said from the stage.

Also: Too Much Joy recorded a paean to Burnham called, appropriately, “Hugo!” on 1988’s Son of Sam I Am album. (Still a killer album title, by the way.) They didn’t play “Hugo!” – they hadn’t rehearsed it for this “tour” – but Burnham lives and teaches college on the North Shore of Boston, is a friend and fan of the band – how could he not be? – and there he was hammering away. It sounded great, with Quirk tersely singing “Your kiss so sweet/Your sweat so sour” and “I’m thinking that I love you/But I know it’s only lust.” Hugs all around as Hugo exited the stage, Burnham saying “They have such low standards … I love ‘em.”

Then, the final run-up and it was a good-un, beginning with their reinvention of LL Cool J’s “That’s a Lie,” with TMJ adding melody to the beats and Quirk spieling off various promises (“I won’t come in your mouth”) and echoed by band mates shouting “That’s a lie!” And there’s that lovely spin of a line, “You lied about the lies that you lied about.” The song jerks to a halt, fooling a few, and Quirk used the dead space to say, “It’s gotten to the point [in the set] where I won’t forget anymore verses to the songs.” And then the band roars in with the guitars, bass, drums and massed vocals: “That’s a lie!” Nice touch.

Tim Quirk and his Olde Booke of Joy (Image: Doug Quintal)

On occasion, Quirk brought out a battered old leatherbound tome, he called “Olde Booke of Joy” and read passages from it, passages he said the guys starting writing way back when they were kids, words that turned into lyrics and then the lyrics into songs. Like magic. They stopped doing that – and making music – when the book ran out of pages. But new pages miraculously appeared when the group reconvened to make last year’s Mistakes Were Made album.  You may believe of that what you wish. (The last studio album prior to that was 1999’s Gods and Sods.)

Now, about that TT’s gig back when: Quirk and his mates left the stage and led the crowd out into the street (Brookline Ave.) as they played their forever-closer “Theme Song’ – “To create you must destroy/Smash a glass and shout ‘Too much joy!’” I was there. It was marvelous and spontaneous, a warm and wonderful musical walk around the block, a New Orleans jazz funeral march done up TMJ style. It’s a rousing fist-pumping song, images of destruction and creation all bound up together. Quirk noted that bit when he introduced the song, but said Too Much Joy doesn’t repeat itself (“unless we want to”) and, so, this time, no march. 

“We’ll be back!” Quirk said at set’s end. “Hopefully, it won’t take 25 years.”

There was an afterparty scheduled and a few dozen paid some extra cash to hang with the band. I asked Quirk ahead of time whether there would be plenty of chicks and cocaine and he said, “People saying nice things about my band IS my cocaine.”

 

 

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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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