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The Humbugs and the Chinchbugs (Friday, February 18th, 2005, Hexagon Bar, Minneapolis)
The Humbugs at the Hexagon - Photo by David de Young (click for full size)

By David de Young

The Humbugs

My trip to the Hexagon Bar Friday night was rewarded by a double payoff of new pop by two great “bug” bands. That’s right: bug bands. Perhaps it was Hex booker Chris Dorn’s sense of humor, but The Humbugs and The Chinch Bugs were selected to warm up the room for headliners The Autumn Leaves.

I arrived shortly after the start of the Humbugs set. Though the mix was a little loud for the type of music and the small confines of the Hex, I was immediately drawn in by The Humbugs’ more than passable late 60’s and early 70’s-influenced rock.

The Humbugs draw their inspiration from bands and songwriters as diverse as BJ Thomas, The Carpenters and The Grass Roots. They boast great harmonies from chief songwriter, guitarist/vocalist Adam Marshall and his wife Kristin, who trades off lead-vocal duties with her husband and has a voice like a spunkier, more soulful incarnation of Karen Carpenter. It was immediately apparent that this group has that thing mastered (whatever that thing is) that makes you feel good just by hearing them play.

The band scored a home run with their cover of “Magic,” by Scottish popsters Pilot, my favorite song when I was in the 4th grade, and the first song I ever taped off the radio to play over and over and over again on my off-brand a.m./f.m. cassette recorder. (Oh, how I wonder where that boxy-looking pre-cursor to the boombox is now.) Guitarist Marshall told me later they’d almost cut that song from their set. No, no, no, (sung like the “ho ho ho” opening part to the song). Please don’t! Other than cleaning up the guitar solo a bit, it was as good a rendition as I think even Two Tickets To Paradise might manufacture, down to the note for note transcription of the bassline.

Next up was “Bleak End,” sung by Kristin, and a song off the band’s 2002 album Stereo Types. It was passionate in the tradition of Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” It was followed by a ballad called “Tearing Me Up,” bright in the sweet pop style of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back.”

The Humbugs are a band with a diverse emotional dynamic. They know what they are doing musically and where they fall on the rock/pop spectrum. They are also a band who can be enjoyed at first hearing.

“Temptation Eyes” by The Grass Roots was another well-chosen cover towards the end of their set that really warmed up the crowd on this chilly February night.

Other musicians in the band are: Matt Baccoli, drums; Tim Formanek, bass; and Mike Senkovich, lead guitar.

On their album, Water Croll played Lead guitar, Pete Sands played organ and Dave Russ provided additional percussion. Russ also helped engineer the disk along with Brad Cassetto at the Terrarium.

The Chinch Bugs at the Hexagon (click for larger version)

The Chinch Bugs

The Chinch Bugs, four former members of The Sandwiches, were the band I had actually come to the Hexagon to see. They’d emailed me a week or two before, and then sent along a copy of their debut album--appropriately titled “Infestation” as chinchbugs are awful lawn pests that suck the life from your lawn, leaving behind a poison that will eventually turn it brown. In contrast to the unpleasantness of their namesakes, I found the Chinch Bugs’ disk to be a fun listen, and I must not have been alone in my enjoyment since KQ Homegrown also spun the catchy track “Some People Are Dumb” the Sunday before.

The band opened with the song “Don’t Touch the Rock Star,” which featured a both a quirky keyboard and guitar solo. The song is not on their album, but shows much the same kind of tongue-in-cheek cleverness as many songs on the disk do. Jim Sexton, Chinch Bugs drummer and primary vocalist sang backup vocals on this song. Sexton seems to draw equally from Jim Morrison and The Doors as well as John Flansburgh and They Might Be Giants both vocally and in his songwriting.

Then, out came the oboe. Keyboardist Jenny Loupe played the double-reed instrument for the second song, “Joking Around,” a mid-tempo yet catchy pop song sung by Sexton. The Chinch Bugs whipping out an oboe (the instrument I started learning while Pilot’s “Magic” was still in my cassette player) was like the Humbugs whipping out Pilot: i.e., another home run.

The funny yet acerbic “Just to Annoy You” was sung by songwriter/guitarist Lila Karash, who wrote that song.

Next up, Sexton sang a song about a fictional character I thought he kept referring to as Anna Lee. I double-checked the set list and discovered I was hearing him correctly, but Sexton, who wrote the song, said it has nothing to do with the Anna Lee many of those reading this may know as the producer of Voltage: Fashion Amplified.

Jenny Loupe sang the next song, the somewhat morose (but still catchy) organ-based “Never Get Sober,” which led into another Sexton song, the bluesy 60’s rocker “Happy Ending Man.” This song started out with a drum solo and picked the tempo back up. At this point in the live set, They Might Be Giants inevitably came to mind, if they hadn’t before. If I had to hold up one band for comparison’s sake when speaking of the Chinch Bugs, it would be TMBG, from subject matter, to song construction to instrumentation. “Happy Ending Man” is one of a couple of songs on their disk that may also make you crack a smile while listening.

Bassist Louise Sherman’s “I Didn’t Ever Want You,” another up tempo song. Then came “the hit,” “Some People Are Dumb.” Sexton dedicated the song to all the stupid people in the audience.

Sexton sang “Illin’,” a surprisingly humorous song about an awful hangover, singing “I can think of ways that I would rather be / Falling from the sky or hanging from a tree.” The band closed out the set with a song “Last Mistake,” also the last track off disk, sung by Sherman.

David de Young is editor[at]