The video for the Mammals’ “You Can Come to My House” opens with a scene that’s become almost alien and shocking in today’s social distancing times. The camera, obviously handheld and perhaps a smartphone, is held waist high, obscuring what’s ahead… but the unmistakable sound of an anticipatory crowd rumbles with claps and murmurs waiting… expecting. When the visual opens up, it feels almost taboo… a tightly-packed audience awaiting the band to return to the stage for the obligatory encore.
“Last summer, we closed our Summer Hoot main stage set with ‘You Can Come To My House’ as an encore, just acoustic, gathered ’round one mic,” remembers Mike Merenda, guitarist/banjo player about the filming of the video. Taken at last Summer’s three-day music, food and crafts festival in Olivebridge, NY, it’s a scene that carries added resonance as it was the performance that wrapped up the weekend. “It was an encore, so the energy on stage and in the audience was electric, six of us singing, all gathered in a semicircle, and the audience all joining in on the refrain.”
It feels almost nostalgic… something to tell the grandkids of the days when concerts were a thing and we’d stand shoulder to shoulder, bumping into each other in odd-mismatched unison, watching bands perform on stages at arm’s length – less than the recommended six feet distance. “Watching that video now, in the midst of all this, I get chills remembering how transcendent live events can be,” he adds.
Before this whole precautionary business was de rigueur, The Mammals enjoyed what was once considered “standard musical performance experiences” – appreciated and excited fans, packed venues, and sweaty and dynamic gigs. For them, this was the life and one they embraced.
Hailing from the Hudson Valley of New York State, The Mammals’ musical romps have continued to morph and grow over the last two decades. Centered mainly around vocalist/fiddler Ruth Unger and her husband the aforementioned Mike Merenda, but populated with a group of players including Konrab Meissner on drums and a cast of pedal steel, organ/key and bass, they’ve celebrated five albums (their sixth Nonet gets released today) with exuberant live shows which was a big part of their draw as a band.
Like their musical peers, The Mammals have been sidelined by the coronavirus and have had to quarantine like the rest of us. Taken from their brand new album Nonet, “You Can Come To My House” is a song about escapism that feels almost illegal in today’s atmosphere of isolation. “You can come to my house, you can pick some records out / Coffee in the cupboard, whisky on the shelf / You can come to my house, I’ll try to keep the children out / Of your hair in the morning,” Merenda sings as the rest of the band harmonizes in a circle around the mic.
Recalls Merenda about the moment he realized what the release of the album means in the age of C-19, “The morning ‘Radio Signal’ [the first single from Nonet] was released, I was doing a radio interview and the DJ asked if there were any songs on the album that have taken on new or different meaning as a result of the crisis. I feel that a lot of our new songs in general address the overall health of the planet and our culture’s relationship to nature, so for the most part the songs were ringing with an even deeper significance in light of current events. But I had to laugh a little when I realized how taboo ‘You Can Come To My House’ had become! Still, the idea of sheltering each other, communing, sharing a common space in celebration (or just plain respite), those are ideas that I hope will never go out of style. This current predicament will make future gatherings all the more sweet on the other side of The Great Pause. Who knows, maybe ‘You Can Come to My House’ will become an unofficial anthem of future dinner parties in a post-COVID world.”
As the video winds down and the band intones “Ahhhhh ah, you can come to my house” in a round, the communal spirit of live performances becomes both poignant and bittersweet, a memory that seems to fade to black as the forecast of the return of concerts grows farther and farther away.
But for this snapshot of the band in their element on stage, the festive scene captures their spirited live performances that hopefully won’t be a thing of the past. For Merenda, it’s a reminder of how lucky he and the band were able to experience that and how happy it was captured on film. He concludes, “I don’t think any of us will ever again take for granted the power and magic of a shared musical experience.”