Speed the Plough and Yung Wu, who will join forces for a show at Prototype 237 in Paterson on July 8, share members, and a lot of history: Musicians in the two groups have been playing together in various configurations since the 1980s. STP co-founder John Baumgartner, for instance, also plays keyboards for Yung Wu, and Glenn Mercer of the legendary band The Feelies is playing guitar in both groups’ current lineups.
This is the first time that STP is playing in Paterson and the first time they are playing since the pandemic. Baumgartner and his wife and fellow STP co-founder Toni Baumgartner grew up in “the suburbs of Paterson, and many of us were born there and had parents that worked there,” Toni said.
“Since many members are in both bands, it might seem like it’s one master group, but the musical contributions are coming from different sources,” said Toni, adding, “We love playing together and we are really looking forward to playing in Paterson, so close to our roots in Haledon and North Haledon.”
Speed the Plough’s current lineup includes John Baumgartner on keyboards and vocals; Toni Baumgartner on woodwinds, percussion and vocals; Mercer, Marc Francia and Michael Baumgartner on guitars; Daniel Francia on bass and vocals; and John Demeski on drums.
Yung Wu is made up of Dave Weckerman on vocals and Brenda Sauter on bass and vocals (both play with The Feelies); Mercer on guitar and vocals; John Baumgartner on keyboards; Ed Seifert on guitar; and Stan Demeski (John Demeski’s father) on drums.
The first version of Speed the Plough came together in 1984. “Marc Francia was in the original band,” Toni said. “After a 10-year hiatus, Marc’s son Dan and our son Michael joined us in 2010. Our nephew John D. joined us for (the 2015 album) Now. We’ve played with Glenn Mercer since 1981 when the Trypes first started, and then later with Sunburst.”
The band is excited to play at Prototype 237. It is “something Paterson has been looking for and aspiring to for a long time,” said Toni. “It’s an artist-built, artist-run listening room and community. Housed in an historic mill building, the Prototype performance space is on the fourth floor. The three lower floors are there to house and nurture artists with living spaces and art spaces.
“You need a secret code to enter the building, just like in the days of prohibition. … At our first experience there, to see The Royal Arctic Institute, we were overcome with a warm sense of community and hospitality. There’s beautiful artwork everywhere.
“They’re all about bringing in the community with open poetry readings, and open mic performance opportunities. They feature performing bands from all over and are booked every weekend.”
The bands Elk City and Gramercy Arms have also performed there.
John shared some personally meaningful background information about the venue and neighborhood.
“It’s in one of the former Manhattan Shirt factories in Paterson from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “My mother worked as a seamstress in a Manhattan Shirt factory a few blocks away, so it’s a full-circle thing for me and Paterson.”
What should the audience expect to hear?
“The STP set begins with a 40-year-old Trypes song that’s only been performed once before, unearthed by Glenn,” said Toni. “The rest of the set will feature 50 percent new songs that have been rarely performed and not recorded yet. Other songs span the band’s catalog.”
She added that Weckerman will lead Yung Wu “with his signature repertoire and entertaining bon mots.”
“STP’s music and lyrics are by John, mainly,” Toni said. “We have some compositions with music by Michael and lyrics by his dad. Band arrangements are by the individual players making up their parts to fit the tune.
“Yung Wu’s music and lyrics are written by Dave, aside from the band’s signature covers by Neil Young, Phil Manzanera and the Rolling Stones.”
Speed the Plough was extremely productive during the pandemic, recording at home.
“During the pandemic, John and I were really busy with home composing and recording and releasing a single once a month for 12 months,” Toni said. “The collection was put into an album that we self-released called Before and After Silence.”
I wondered how they feel getting ready to play for the first time since 2020. “Both exciting and scary, not so much a relief,” she said. “We’re happy to share our new vision of our material with an audience.”
Speed the Plough performs at Prototype 237 in Paterson, July 8 at 8 p.m. Visit prototype237.com.
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