At one end of the music business, fans are up in arms because the ticket sales for the latest Taylor Swift tour were a cluster of chaos and “dynamic pricing” that satisfied exactly no one. More generally, fans are back in the clubs and concert halls, but also increasingly upset with those ever-increasing and inscrutable service charges that get added to the advertised ticket prices.
Music fans are going back out and eager to enjoy live music again, but even as the concert industry seems to be thriving, there are warning signs that the skyrocketing costs of tickets and all the added expenses could be a time bomb ready to threaten its foundation.
On the other end of the business, where fans can just pop into a local club or restaurant for no cover charge and catch a professional musician up close and personal – and typically without the added expenses of travel, parking, coat checks, etc. – the business is booming.
Old clubs that survived the lockdowns have come back, new venues have opened and places that might never have considered music before now make it a regular feature. You don’t have to go to the big city to hear quality music and you don’t have to feed the TicketMaster conglomerate to have a good time. Check out your hometown bistros, where you may not only hear good sounds but more than likely be able to make a request or get to meet the performers.
Quincy native Fil Pacino is one of the hardest-working singers in South Shore music and if he doesn’t have a bejeweled cape like James Brown (yet), he does have a seemingly endless songbook that allows him to cover virtually anything that’s been near the charts lately, and also his own compelling originals. You might catch him solo, or in the quintet Emergency Broadcast System, or even in the trio Up Too Late with his two teenage sons, but anyone who’s heard him knows Pacino delivers an entertaining and unique evening for music fans across many spectrums.
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We caught up with Pacino last weekend to try to gauge the way the local scene has bounced back from the dark days of the pandemic.
“The music scene has come back with a vengeance,” Pacino said. “The last time we spoke, in the summer of 2021, the majority of gigs were outside on patios and so on. Now, not only have spots that used to have music brought it back but places that never had music before, now do. I have probably averaged 36 gigs a month – with some days with two shows – through a busy, busy summer.”
Pacino said 2022 was “the busiest year of my career.”
“A lot of my friends also play the local club circuit and it is so busy it just feels less competitive. I hope it’s not a fluke, with people finally feeling able to go out again.”
Pacino got into music with the same dreams most people have, of composing and performing his own songs, and becoming the kind of act that headlines those glittery downtown venues. But over time he realized that most suburban venues prefer cover songs because that’s what people want to hear and showcasing unknown original artists isn’t always profitable. But more than a dozen years ago, Pacino realized he could make a living at performing and still maintain his own original writing side, so he left what he called “my last corporate job” and dove into music full time.
This year marks 10 years since Pacino’s debut album, “Death by Lions,” which proved popular among his many South Shore fans. This year he released “Last Winter on Bayfield,” an 11-song album available on all streaming platforms. We’d recommend the infectious “Walls” and the edgy rock of “Make It Through.”
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“’Last Winter on Bayfield’ is kind of an homage to the street I grew up on,” Pacino explained. “I had been living not far away from my old family home. My wife and I built a new home in Abington and moved out in 2019, and most of these songs were written in that period. It’s out there now on Apple and Spotify and all the streaming services.”
But he’s quick to admit his main income is based on cover songs. Lots of musicians can perform other people’s hits, read the music charts and deliver a passable facsimile. Pacino’s success comes in large part from the way he can add something uniquely his own to each one, whether it’s by a tempo change or a vocal that tells the story a little differently.
“My solo career gig is mostly covers,” Pacino said. “But I like to think of it as I’m doing interpretations. I think one of my strengths is that I can really make a song my own. I might keep the melody the same as the original version, but change everything else up. I work with a loop sampler, so I can sound like a full band all by myself. I try to make the tunes almost feel like they’re original, by putting my own stamp on them. And if I have some friends in the crowd and they request one of my own songs, I’m always happy to slip one into the set.”
The EBS, or Emergency Broadcasting System, is a quintet Pacino fronts and has its own loyal audience.
“The EBS is my five-piece band that performs at least twice a month,” Pacino said. “We’re kind of in our ‘off-season’ now, but during the summer we’ll play five or six shows a month. We do our fair share of band gigs, and the set list is much the same, a lot of variety and we try and keep it eclectic.”
No doubt the most joy Pacino gets from his musical career is playing with his two sons. What started as a novelty act is growing quickly into a big deal.
“The trio with my sons started when they were 9 and 11, but we were pretty quickly able to do a three-hour set, which surprised me,” he said. “Now they are 14 and 16 and pretty close to professional-level musicians themselves. We are seriously looking at getting a bass player and turning it into a quartet. I’ve got a lot of options for playing music, but now, being able to perform with my sons is the icing on the cake. We started when they were much younger and much cuter, and called it Up Too Late, but we’re realizing this could be a real band, so we may have to reconsider that band name.”
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A partial list of Pacino’s upcoming gigs includes: 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 23 at Fisherman’s View in Sandwich; Nov. 25 at Bill’s Bar in Boston with EBS; Nov. 26 at Fisherman’s View; 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 27 at Three Vs in Plymouth; Dec. 1 at Fisherman’s View; Dec. 2 at Stars in Hingham; 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 3 at Untold in Hingham; Dec. 4 at The Galley in Scituate; and 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 8 at Break Rock Brewing in Quincy.
Some interesting notes on the Grammy nominations announced last week: Brandi Carlile and Lizzo appear poised to win some of the major categories, but local fans are familiar with many of the other categories.
Old friend Shemekia Copeland, for example, is nominated for best contemporary blues album for her “Done Come Too Far,” while harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite played more guitar on his “Mississippi Son” album, which was nominated for best traditional blues album.
Gov’t Mule received its first-ever nomination in the best traditional blues album category for “Heavy Load Blues.” Cambridge-founded Rounder Records dominates the Americana category, with Robert Plant & Allison Krauss (“Raise the Roof”), the late Dr. John (“Things Happen That Way”), and Keb Mo (“Good to Be …”), all nominated for best Americana album. Plant and Krauss picked up two more nominations for songs from their album.
The Boston area’s thriving jazz community is also well represented with Terri Lynne Carrington nominated in four categories, while Joshua Redman and Esperanza Spalding are also nominated, and Quincy’s Danilo Perez is nominated twice for best Latin jazz album and best instrumental for his “Fronteras Suite.”
And it seems like an annual event, but Stoughton songwriter Lori McKenna is nominated, this time for a song she co-wrote with Taylor Swift titled “I Bet You Think About Me.” The Grammys will be handed out Feb. 5, 2023.
The Massachusetts Broadcasters Association just held its annual Sound Bites awards, and WATD’s John Shea received first place for a recurring segment for the station’s “Almost Famous − Live from the Tiny Stage” feature, which showcases local talent with interviews and live performances from the studio. We all know Shea is a tireless promoter of the local music community.
FRIDAY: The Silks are a fine way to work off all that turkey at The C-Note. Back in Black’s AC/DC tribute at Soundcheck Studios. Say Darling’s roots music at The Burren. The “alt-R&B” duo Sad Night Dynamite at The Sinclair. Suzanne McNeil sings sweetly at Donahue’s in Holbrook. Julie Rhodes lights up Atwood’s Tavern.
SATURDAY: Draw the Line’s Aerosmith tribute at The C-Note. Dinosaur Junior rocks The House of Blues. Newton’s Alice Howe sings at City Winery’s Haymarket Lounge, while Mike Doughty is in the main room. Booty Vortex discos down at Soundcheck Studios. The DJ duo known as Slander at Roadrunner. Italian pop sensations Maneskin at MGM Music Hall. NYC rapper Meechy Darko at The Paradise. Bigfoot Research Organization is folk music and humor at Club Passim. Max Bemis, from the band Say Anything, brings his solo act to Brighton Music Hall.
SUNDAY AND BEYOND: Sunday catch Norwell’s Les Sampou at Atwood’s Tavern. Monday it’s electronic pop with Miss Peppermint at Brighton Music Hall. Tuesday look for Drive-By Truckers singer Patterson Hood in a solo show at City Winery. And lest we forget, the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s annual string of shows at The Orpheum Theatre begins Tuesday, with added shows on Wednesday, Friday (Dec. 2) and Saturday (Dec. 3).