Squish Mitten just might be the funniest sounding name ever for a rock band. Or, are they a blues band? Or, maybe a little bit of a jam band? That’s the thing about Squish Mitten. It is hard to pigeon hole them into any one category. These four musicians are top notch at what they do, and they do much of it with seriousness and purpose.
And when they go wrong, it is because they either went overboard with seriousness and purpose or they loosened up too much and went a little too far into comedy. Squish mitten opened their first set last Saturday, March 6, at Shenanigans’ in Milford, New Hampshire, with a jazzy jam feel. Singer/harpist Dave Glannon was wailing on his harmonica. Guitarist Pat Herlehy was going wild on his guitar. The tough rhythmic section of bassist LauraJean Graham and drummer Lee Sevigny were hard driving., moving the band forward like a locomotive. Graham’s feminine fingers were flying up and down her strings with machine precision.
Dave Glannon sang “It Ain’t Right” before he unleashed his flurry of blues drenched harmonica notes. Pat Herlehy pulled some wild blues licks out of his axe. The beat here was chugging and racing.
“Buzz Cut Saw” was more meshing of driving blues and driving harmonica. Squish Mitten plays blues with an edge, an attitude, and a drive. “Shaky Ground” began with Graham pumping out a wallop of a groove on her bass guitar, thick, thumping dollops of bass notes carried the tune all the way through, and her heavy duty bass playing made this rendition better than most you hear locally. Sevigny found some spaces to punch in more danceable rhythm, and that made the song even more deliciously funky. Graham sang lead vocal, and she ran into some microphone problems, her full vocal strength not realized until later in the show.
Sevigny smacks those skins with precision, always on time, always in the pocket, and that gave a foundational arc to the slower grooved songs. Often, on these mellower grooves, Herlehy would play some tense chords on his guitar to create some friction with Glannon’s harp attacks. This is the high art side of Squish Mitten. The low art side is when they keep jamming on a song, and it goes on too long. Herlehy will through in high level playing skills, stunning phrases, notes bending, sustaining, which all impresses on a technical level but does not at all serve the song.
There is nothing weak about Squish Mitten. They’re probably the best group of players to ever hit this main road supermarket strip mall bar with its several mirrors and beer product decor. It would be nice, though, if they would stop jamming on almost every song, and simply play the song as it was intended, as only a group of A-List musicians can, with plenty of oomph and feeling. Speaking of feeling, there were many moments during Squish Mittens display of enormous talent when I wasn’t really feeling anything about their songs. They need to reach deeper into the songs they play instead of rocketing into the stratosphere with their high octane playing skills.
When Squish Mitten stick to the original arrangement they excel. Herlehy’s lead vocal on “Pride And Joy” was full of authenticity. His guitar notes came blistering out of nowhere, burning, insinuating their way forward in a way that served the song, made it come alive. Likewise, The Squish Mitten pulled off “No Fighting” with equal aplomb, because, the guitar and harp, while impressing with skill and with giving each other space, were making the song work, keeping it interesting, keeping it solid.
Just when Squish Mitten leaves the listener feeling a little more settled, they had to throw in some comedy. They performed their wild interpretation of The Flintstone theme song and came close to throwing themselves off the rails. After the first few guitar phrases, I got the joke, ha, ha, they’re playing the Flintstones Then they went so far into it and so far into an extended frenzied jam that a listener may have felt he was on top of a speeding freight train, needing to duck before the train had to go under a bridge.
This band also wasted their talent and the audience’s time with “Business Time,” a comedy song by New Zealand’s duo Flight Of the Conchord. This is only a throw away song that anybody who can play Kumbaya by the campfire could learn this. Glannon’s comedic timing was off and he did not have any dramatic chemistry with Graham when she answered in the female’s dialogue. The band could have played something meaningful like an Allman Brothers song or a Frank Zappa song or maybe even a Steely Dan song that could have better showcased their talents.
Squish Mitten brought it back into a comfortable groove with “Big Legged Woman.” Glannon’s vocal has the appropriate blues rasp, and he gave it a nice work out without falling into any blues cliches.
When Squish Mitten slows it down, you can really hear the pulse in the rhythm section. A fresh interpretation of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” went over well, with Graham’s voice full of feeling and the jazzy, breezy flow from the rhythm section meshing with an edge from the guitars and harp. Graham’s original torchy blues chanteuse number “Sometimes Lover” found her vocal approach fitting, slinky, and sliding right into the groove and dimension of it all, with Herlehy adding a smoky guitar lead to top it off.
Guest musicians in the room got up to join Squish Mitten. Guitarist Jake Scott played on a song and then they brought up Mike Miles and Tammy Lynn Miles from Raising Scarlett to perform “Use Me” by Bill Withers and “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones. Both renditions were fine, though Tammy’s voice was lost a bit in the vocal mix, and she didn’t get to strut her stuff.
Squish Mitten played party flavored material in their third set. “Boom Boom Boom,” “Tequila,” Z.Z. Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Muddy Water’s “Got Your Mojo Working” got people dancing, and the crowd just kept coming in. After the show ,Squish Mitten was talking excitedly amongst themselves but within earshot of the press: The owner paid them more than what they were expecting, and, he wanted them back as soon as possible. .
Squish Mitten could best be summed up as a group of stellar players/singers who need to hone their outfit and set list into a tighter, more polished act. But go see them right away anyway for their musical skills.