Revisiting open mic night at The Flat
It’s been more than a couple of years since I wandered down the short staircase on a Tuesday to write about open mic at the Flatiron and the amorphous band that hosts it known as Deviled Eggs. Two years ago people were talking about this band, how they play unorthodox versions of cover tunes and would switch instruments, sometimes in mid-song. But what people were mostly saying back then was this: ‘“These guys suck.’”
Fast forward to the present, down the short flight into the smoky barroom. Things have just gotten started ‘— Matty Sheets keeps the stage with his acoustic guitar, earnestly belting out a folksy tune in his Dylanesque style. Matty is feeling a bit under the weather, so he’s drinking a big glass of ice water with his whiskey. He’s a founding member of Deviled Eggs, the band that’s been hosting this open mic for going on three years. His musical partner Gino (aka Mike Roohan) waits at the bar for his turn onstage.
Their collaboration goes back to the days when they slung pizzas and root beers at PieWorks on Lawndale and their friendship goes back even further, when the two came together and jointly discovered the canon of music known as Americana ‘— Dylan, Neil Young, Hendrix and the like. The band was a natural progression for the two and when the gigs ran thin the open mic provided them with a forum and an audience, a place to hone their chops. They also picked up an erstwhile third member for the band here, Cally Wells, a bespectacled, twenty-something folkster of the long printed skirt variety who first caught my attention at a Flatiron open mic when she said to the crowd: ‘“Do y’all know who Arlo Guthrie is?’”
The band Deviled Eggs still exists, but the members are immersed in their own projects ‘— Roohan has recently finished a CD titled Fitness Rock a parody of workout music with songs like ‘“Pilates is Making Me a Hottie,’” ‘“Jesus is my Spotter’” and ‘“I Only Have Glutes for You.’” But they’ve maintained the standing Tuesday night gig.
At the bar, Roohan rolls his beefy shoulders and rotates his neck.
‘“Getting ready to go on,’” he says.
Roohan is quite reserved in face-to-face conversations, prone to mumbling wisecracks and sentences that trail off into nothingness. But onstage he’s ebullient and charming, bringing deep emotion and subtle satire to his songs as necessary. He opens with the ‘“Pilates’” tune, a smarmy romp about a young woman’s acquisition of the perfect bod, and then a cover of ‘“See You Smile’” that comes straight from the heart.
Up next is Jason Voss, a slim crewcutter, who opens with a tune called ‘“I’m Gonna Rock This Bitch.’” This is a true open mic night, where everybody who wants gets to play. After his opener, Voss reels into a string of kooky covers including ‘“Faith’” by George Michael and ‘“I Don’t Want Your Freedom’” by Michael’s mid-eighties duo Wham!, the wacked-out tunes broken down to the acoustic level. After Voss’s set, a man calling himself ‘“Mr. Sunshine’” takes the stage and unleashes a small set of instrumental originals composed for classical guitar. He blushes after his round of applause and when he pulls a bad note he says unapologetically: ‘“Hey, when you write your own songs there’s no such thing as a mistake.’” When the mic goes out, the crowd shouts: ‘“Tap the mic!’” He taps it and sound is restored.
There’s a hearty crowd of regulars tonight, including Flatiron bartender Heather Key who eventually goes onstage with Gino and covers a few Whitesnake tunes. Gino pulls a cover of Hall and Oates’ ‘“Rich Girl’” during which he stops ands asks the audience about the chord progression before picking back up and Voss ends the night with Outkast’s ‘“Hey-Ya,’” delivered in a convincing falsetto.
All in all, not so much has changed down here at the Flat on Tuesday nights. The town has changed for sure ‘— there are musical opportunities out there now that simply didn’t exist when I first visited the place ‘— but Gino and company have kept plugging away, week after week, one obscure cover tune after another, in this little smoke-filled mecca of democratic musicality. They do it because they love it and because they drink for free. But mostly, I think, they do it because that’s what they do.
And for the record, I don’t think they suck.
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.