Progressive Rock

Review: Michael Tomasky, Matt Duss, and the Faithless Electors, opening for A Sound of Thunder at FireFlies Restaurant & Bar

Michael Tomasky, left, and Matt Duss / James Joyner
December 12, 2016

I was not the logical person from the Washington Free Beacon to cover a Beatles jam session. That would have been Matthew Walther, who has written at length about the Fab Four and looks like its lost fifth member from the Sergeant Pepper phase. I look more like—if I may say—a Beach Boy at his most wholesome.

Nonetheless, Walther was busy changing a newborn’s diapers, so it fell to me—the Free Beacon’s other undercover culture critic—to review The Beatles’ Revolver, as performed by Michael Tomasky, Matt Duss, and the Faithless Electors.

By day, Tomasky is a journal editor and columnist at the Daily Beast, where he writes passionately about Republicans (they seem always to be "a hair’s breath [sic] away from treason" in his telling). He is also the author of an intersectional e-book about The Beatles and American society. Duss is a Middle East activist who doesn’t like Israel. In other words, by day they are typical D.C. dwellers, of a certain ideological tribe. By night, they are guitar gods.

Their venue was FireFlies Restaurant & Bar in suburban Alexandria, a family friendly establishment that could be described as hipster T.G.I. Fridays, blending American grill fare with a lengthy roster of whimsically named beers (Mustang Sally IPA was in the seasonal rotation). A framed picture of Bill Murray wearing Lennon-esque glasses occupied a place of prominence above the bar—the place that would be occupied in other bars by a picture of a local sports hero.

FireFlies was transitioning from "mostly restaurant" to "mostly bar" when my girlfriend and I arrived at 7:30 p.m. The late dinner crowd was besieged by the more numerous drinkers clogging the walkways. Three or four children at play wove through the crowd, looking more and more out of place as the night deepened. We snagged a table for dinner only through the kindness of strangers, who broke apart their table to give us a place to sit. Our table was located at the very front of the restaurant, vulnerable to blasts of cold air when the front door was open. The stage, around a corner, was partly visible through a small window in the wall.

"Goooood day, sunshine"—duhdundun—"Goooood day, sunshine." The band was plugging away when we showed up. Duss played acoustic and maracas, shake-shaking those maracas with controlled intensity. Tomasky shredded on the electric guitar. He was wearing a long-sleeved Hawaiian shirt (a bold but entirely commendable fashion choice, in your correspondent’s opinion). They looked cold. I thought to myself that one rarely saw musicians—grungy, hip musicians especially—wearing sweaters. Why? Is it because of the risk of overheating on stage? Did grunge not pair well with dry-clean only garments? Are sweaters too bourgeois? Suddenly I was self-conscious of my bottle green quarter-zip. It screamed, "expand the child tax credit!"

A scan of the crowd confirmed that I was in the minority, fashion-wise. There were two types of people in attendance. First and fewest were the progressive knowledge workers, recognizable by their sweaters and clear-plastic frames and aloof, anemic facial expressions. Second and more numerous were the metal-heads, to use the most diplomatic term I can think of.

It so happened that Matt and Mike were opening for the heavy metal band A Sound of Thunder, which you may recognize from such jingles as "The Nightwitch" and "Kill That Bitch." The band’s following was a motley and energetic crew dressed mostly in black, although the gentleman in the black T-shirt reading "CAUTION: BLOOD VOMIT" stood out from the pack with a chrome earring of a goat’s skull. No, the gentleman was not Adam Kredo.

The two groups—one representative of the dominant elite culture, the other wholly counter-cultural—were an odd pairing. But it didn’t seem to affect the atmosphere. The metal-heads enjoyed Revolver just fine, quaffing beers and singing along to "Yellow Submarine." The metal-head I talked to in line for the restroom, wearing a sweatshirt reading "MOB SQUAD," was affable and devoted. He had driven from Jersey to see A Sound of Thunder. This performance, he confided to me, would be acoustic-only, which would showcase the band’s vocals. Would I be staying for the main event? I briefly entertained the notion out of journalistic curiosity. I was later told in no uncertain terms by my girlfriend—as a gaffer carried past a music stand made of welded chains—that we would not be staying for the main event.

As to the technical quality of the Matt and Mike show, it checked my short and unscientific list of boxes. Volume? Adequate. Tone? Just fine, thanks. Song selection? Crowd pleasers present and accounted for, yellow submarine captain. I had my complaints. They repeated the entire set list between hours one and two. Their choice of a later Beatles album precluded poppy yeah-yeah’ing and warbled oooooooohhhhhs. I didn’t hear the Revolver classic "Taxman," which rails against Britain’s progressive supertax system. But these were not serious shortcomings for an amateur act. And in any case, all these quibbles were covered over many times by Mike and Matt’s grand finale.

"This land is yourrr land"—strum—"This land is myyyyy land."

I looked up from the check. Could it be?

"From Californ-yuh"—strum—"To the New York eye-land."

It could.

They were playing Woody Guthrie. It was a beautiful concluding tableau: Matt and Mike strumming out Woody Guthrie on their machines that kill fascists, surrounded by progressive knowledge workers and some Satanists. I was happy for them. The whole left-wing family was here!