It was no big deal; just another night of rock 'n' roll in the Flower City. The smart set had shoehorned itself into Abilene on a Friday night in March for headliners 5Head and an unknown support act. You could've spread the energy with a spatula. It was palpable within the crowd-powered steam heat when seven musicians piled onto the stage area to get the rock 'n' roll ball rolling. With a stomp and a whoop, the band floored it with a flipped-out frappe of soul and r&b. It was a soul-shaking, hip-quaking blast of Hell Yes. It was The Fox Sisters, and man, did the band ever lay it down. Forty-five fun minutes from the starting stomp and whoop, the crowd was collectively spent and elated.
The wow factor makes sense given the band's pedigree. The Fox Sisters includes singer Pat McNally, bassist Jimmy Filingeri, keyboardist Will Veeder, guitarist Dave Snyder, trumpeter Darren DeWispelaere, saxman Chris Oldfield, and drummer Brian Shafer. They have all earned (and in many cases, still earn) their bones in bands like The Thundergods (where Filingeri and McNally first played together), The Quitters, Dog's Life, Hinkley, Veluxe, and Nod.
Filingeri lit the Fox Sister fuse just over a year ago. Or perhaps it lit them. Filingeri was already a rabid record collector.
"A few years ago Jimmy and I were getting into these live records," says McNally. "Especially Sam Cooke's 'Live at the Harlem Square Club' and Gene Chandler's 'Live at the Regal.' And we'd been listening to a lot of Sam and Dave."
"I'm a big record collector," Filingeri admits. "I'm kind of obsessive. I don't watch TV. Every time — when I have time — I'm listening to music."
Both of these cats listens to everything, yet arrived at classic soul as their next musical endeavor. McNally ventures a guess as to why.
"For one thing, you listen to those albums and the spirit just grabs you, it just seems so perfect," he says. "It's rockin' and it's sexy. It's also friendly and accessible; there's no sneer to it. It's more a call to have a good time, and for everyone to feel good."
Everyone at the band's Abilene show heeded that call, and by the second song the crowd had shifted into full-on get-down gear. The boss blast and beat was seductive and irresistible as it transferred from onstage instruments to offstage anatomy. And the bandstand was a riot to watch as well, the musicians all bobbing and weaving around one another. With the septet all crammed in together it looked like one of those 1950's "how-many-college-students-can-we-get-into-a-phone-booth" stunts.
Despite its wide appeal, Filingeri refers to The Fox Sisters' sound as "grown-up man's music." "It's more mature as opposed to sneery punk rock, or than the Thundergods. Of everyone in the band, I'm the most musically inept. As far as knowing music, I'm good. Playing music... everything's a challenge to me. And I have to work harder than anyone else in the band to get where I need to be, but it's worth it."
Listen close, listen casually. The band is up for the challenge of the music's beguiling simplicity and truly delivers.
"I think we have a feel for how the music should sound as a result of listening to a ton of music," McNally says. "And we have an affinity for it where we are able to write some catchy songs. And then we are lucky we got a bunch of great musicians in the band."
The real secret to The Fox Sisters' success is the band's contemporary application of retro themes. The band is more now than then.
"We're not slaves to the retro sound, either," Filingeri says. "It's a template we're using to convey that feeling of the bands we've seen live that have moved us. Bands like The Fleshtones. Or like The Essentials at Richmond's, when you're packed into that little space and you're just having a blast. That's kind of what we're going for. While it has a template of r&b and soul music, we don't pretend that we're going to sound like Sam Cooke. We're going to sound like us. It's the spirit of the music that we're trying to portray, the joy of the music."
The Fox Sisters' onstage presence conveys a confident swagger thanks to the balls-to-the-wall bravado and destruction in Filingeri and McNally's first band, The Thundergods. The members of that band could hardly play their instruments, but made up for it in sheer volume and attitude.
"I think that's a big part of why we thought we could try this band," says Filingeri. "We've always been in over our heads."
Depending on who you ask — or when you ask the question — you'll get a variety of explanations of what the Sound ExChange Project really is: A local contemporary classical ensemble; a chamber group; an artist collective; composers; curators; educators; community-investors.