It feels a little silly to be writing about a cover band. Not that I have anything against them – it's lovely to be out at a bar, having a drink, and listening to a band bash through some of your favorite songs – there's just usually not much that's needs to be said about the band. But EXTC isn't exactly a cover band. Nor is it precisely a tribute band. It's that third thing where a band that that originated in the early '70s soldiers on with only one or two original members – often ones with only the most tenuous connection to the band's heyday. Still, EXTC carries a definite lineage back to XTC, and that deserves a few paragraphs. Let's start with that pedigree.
EXTC is often billed as "XTC's Terry Chambers and Friends." So, first, who is Terry Chambers? Chambers was XTC's drummer throughout its early years but left the act in 1983 when frontman Andy Patridge was unable to tour due to various health concerns. XTC then became a studio-only band featuring Partridge's guitar and vocals, Colin Moulding's bass, David Gregory's guitar, and revolving cast of session drummers. So that how Terry Chambers fits into the XTC story. And who are his friends? Session musicians Steve Hampton (vocals/guitar) and Matt Hughes (bass/vocals). They're seasoned players who toured with the likes of Joe Jackson, Robyn Hitchcock, Rick Wakeman and The Vapors. Reportedly, Andy Partridge dubbed this trio EXTC. Now, on with the show.
The night got off to a shaky start with "This is Pop" and "Statue of Liberty" from 1978's White Music. These songs were recorded by jittery kids with something to prove. It's not surprising that the middle-aged men of EXTC couldn't recreate that nerve. But these early songs also suffered a second blow, as the live arrangements lacked the nervous keyboards prevalent in its early material. Songs from the band's later studio-only period would also suffer from the necessitated rearrangements for a live trio. Luckily these eras were only bookends to the set, and the trio wisely focused on the middle period of XTC's career instead.
This era – songs released between 1980 and 1986 – accounted for fourteen of the 24 songs played, and they provided nearly every highlight. "Towers of London," "No Thugs in Our House," and "Earn Enough for Us" all sounded marvelous with both passion and harmony right where they needed to be. "Ball and Chain" was the song that finally got members of the seated crowd up to dance. Hits "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Senses Working Overtime" were done well. And despite the skeletal rearrangements that lacked the magic and jangle of the originals, later songs "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" were well received by the voracious audience. As one concertgoer told me, this was as close as she would ever get to seeing these songs performed live. That was true for most of the audience as the band's last visit to the area was a 1980 appearance at the Lawrence Opera House (now Liberty Hall). Incidentally, highlights of that performance can be found online thanks to KJHK.
The night ended with an exuberant version of "Life Begins at the Hop" that conveyed much of the excitement of XTC's early period. When looking back at the show, this may have been the perfect song for this band. "Life…"'s pub rock roots take us right back to our first paragraph, where a band is on stage bashing out some very good songs for an audience that's having a good time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.