Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – You didn’t have to know jack about baseball to enjoy last night’s easygoing concert by the Baseball Project at Club Helsinki Hudson, but I’m sure it helped. Especially if you were a fan – possibly a young fan – in the 1960s and ‘70s, when many of the players and events the rock supergroup sang about were in the major leagues, folks like Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Tony Conigliaro, Dock Ellis, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, and others. The group – comprised of members of R.E.M., Dream Syndicate, Hindu Love Gods and Young Fresh Fellows – touched on post-‘70s figures such as Fernando Valenzuela, Lenny Dykstra, Bill Buckner, Roger Clemens, and A-Rod, too. But the main thing is they made it all seem effortless in perfect rock songs in a variety of styles, most or all of which could be instant pop hits, with as many hooks as Aaron hit homers, as many riffs as Clemens threw strikeouts.
But what was extra fun for those of us who came of age during this era – the same era, presumably, that the mostly graying band featuring bassist Mike Mills (R.E.M.), guitarist Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), and guitarist Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), grew up with – was how the group mined the careers of these heroes and losers (and sometimes both) for drama, humor, and even moral lessons – all packaged into catchy, harmony-laden three-minute pop tunes.
Take “From Nails to Thumbtacks,” a perfect pairing of Ramones-like punk-rock with the subject of Lenny Dykstra, aka Nails, who for a short while was an MVP-level star for the New York Mets – sort of a latter-day Pete Rose. Unlike Rose, who was Mr. Endurance (as well as many other Misters), Dykstra was more of a shooting star that flamed out early. As such, the lyric riff of the tune was “You gotta fly high to fall this far.” Ain’t it the truth, in baseball or otherwise.
Other than for the easygoing, seemingly effortless talent onstage, it was easy to forget that most of these guys (aided and abetted by Linda Pitmon on drums and Josh Canter on organ) are used to playing arenas and stadiums. There was no pretense, however – the gig had a bar-band feel suited to the topic. Maybe the Baseball Project is a sports-bar band.
It also led one to wonder, if these guys can toss off so many would-be hits by confining themselves to baseball, what other similar projects could there be? Perhaps the Politician Project – with songs about Wilbur Mills, Richard Nixon, Jerry Brown, Ross Perot … there’s endless potential there. Maybe the Movie Star Project? Or even the Rock Star project?
It certainly could keep lots of musicians busy, especially those who once flew high and have now fallen, like musical Lenny Dykstras.