Nostalgia, Mercury Be Thy Name

Mercury Radio Theater is one of the first bands I fell in love with when I came down to the Philly area for college. The first time I saw them, I was immediately taken aback. A tight three piece surf rock/punk/rockabilly/jazz ensemble, the band played instrumental music, amidst an old time radio show broadcast out of an old time radio set up in center stage. I’ll never forget the first episode of the many that I saw performed live over the following years, a story based on a Bond-like hero named Dick Danger. I later found out that a classmate was one of the voice on the radio show recording.

In the years since seeing this show, the lineup has changed on several occasions, the episodes have evolved form one to the next, and their live show has continually gotten more visual, but they’ve always been one thing if nothing else: a talented group of showmen. I hesitate to call them musicians, while it is entirely fair to say that they are fantastic musicians, because they are so much more than musicians. With a new album and many supporting shows on the way, my hope is that many more can see what I have seen in this band over the last decade.

The lineup, when I first saw the band consisted of only one current member, Kurt Fowler aka Buddy Mercury, and two guys that have since moved one to other endeavors. Jeff Brown played bass and did so very well. I believe he got married and settled down. Chris Tolomeo was the drummer; he’s since went on to write, direct, and perform in several musicals, as well as perform in several other bands and as a solo artist. This original trio was very talented… but as the lineup changed, nothing ever seemed to miss a beat.

I recall a discussion with Buddy that I had a couple of years ago when I was doing a show with the guys. Buddy asked me if I had a favorite episode and I told him that I though it was “Manhattan Zombie Massacre”. He responded (paraphrase):

Oh, thanks. Your favorite episode is the only one I wasn’t part of

Honestly, I didn’t even realize that he wasn’t part of the episode, which speaks volumes to the quality musicianship and showmanship of everyone involved in this band.

Now, I must clarify to those who aren’t waxing nostalgic, like myself, what I mean by “episodes”. MRT’s whole concept is based on the old radio shows that our parents and grandparents gathered around their radios to listen to back before we had the picture tubes we now glue ourselves to. Each set list that they performed was the soundtrack to a pre-recorded radio show. From their inception, they would write new episodes and every so often would introduce a new one.

Now that we are all on the same page, I’ll fast forward a bit… in 2004 or so, I remember the band finally putting out a solid CD version of one of their live shows. It was the episode The Death and Life of the Undead Boy and the whole presentation was incredible. Released on Angryson Records, the release featured artwork by Joe Whiteford (Calibretto, Harley Poe) and narration by Philly punk legend Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen. The entire thing was down to perfection; while it could never do full justice to their stage presence, it was the first time the band was able to present to the public something truly representative of Mercury Radio Theater. It was a dark, clever, punk rock version of a Shel Silverstein book set to music.

At this time, they began to introduce the slideshow visual to the live performances. I thought this was a fun addition to an already incredible live act and I know many people agreed. And, naturally, this did not go away when they produced their seminal (at least at this point) release in 2006 on Lujo Records, The Blue Eyed Model. This retelling of the Frankenstein story was released to a wider audience, including being made available in major outlets like iTunes and Amazon. But if I know this band like I think I do, we can only expect them to top this with their upcoming release…

I was assured by Buddy that in the next few months, we will be seeing the release of another episode from Mercury Radio Theater. I have no doubt that it will make fans out of anyone willing and able to check it out, albeit I hope I have not turned you off by taking you along on my nostalgic journey this evening… as I know I can be boring at times. But if you suffered this far into the story, I can only assume that you fall into one of these 3 categories:

1. An old school MRT fan that remembers the Farquar Muckenfuss rivalry, the show at Wayne Pres where the computer wouldn’t work, and the smoke alarms in the Great Room at Eastern
2. Someone who values my opinion and, thus, will be checking out The Death and Life of the Undead Boy and The Blue Eyed Model, while awaiting the next episode
3. Someone who spends way too much time on the Internet

I’m hoping the 2’s (and some 1’s) win out and make a point to head over to the Mercury Radio Theater website. More info to come as I receive it, but until then acquaint yourself with this fantastic Philadelphia staple.

Thanks for checking out HORROR WEEK. Tomorrow, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming, with some music, beer, and other fun stuff as the week unfolds.

~ by thepaintedman on February 8, 2010.

9 Responses to “Nostalgia, Mercury Be Thy Name”

  1. I may have grown up and gotten over my crush(es) on member(s) of MRT, but I’m not over the love I had for their shows! I’d love to get their latest album! Thanks for walking me down memory lane. I too was at the Wayne pres show.

    Though my most memorable show was when a drum got ripped and band mbers signed it for me…

    ::swoon::

  2. I totally forgot about these guys… I always enjoyed seeing them. Definitely an awesome live show, and I will definitely be checking out the stuff since I’ve last seen them.

    And wow… Farquar Muckenfuss… forgot about those guys (or pigs?) too.

  3. I remember the green room smoke alarm. It was the Revolution Philly Halloween show! I was handed a huge fine for that. It was awesome!

  4. […] editor contacted me about some errors in yesterday’s piece about Mercury Radio Theater. He received several angry emails and also received information form […]

  5. I totally remember the smoke alarm show I consider that one of the first great events in my college life, and the wayne pres show without the computer. Didn’t they run out of picks at that one and played with one off a kids necklace?

  6. Indeed… I remember that.

  7. Continue to keep up the excellent effort!

  8. I found your blog when I was searching on google, and it brought me right to what I was looking for. I’m going to add your rss feed to my Google Reader, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts

  9. […] Oh, absolutely. Pass it around.  “Monopoly” is a fun track, and one of my favs.  For MRT fans, “The Getaway” should tickle their […]

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