Doing that Bar Band Thing, Texas-Style

Old bar bands never die, they just…well, they don’t always just fade away, either. There are no doubt countless bands who have been playing together for years, slogging it out in bars and clubs, all for the love of the music, friendship, and camaraderie. I had the opportunity to take in a show by one such combo recently in Arlington, TX – the Pengwins.

The Pengwins were originally formed in Texas in 1976 by singer/songwriter Lannie Flowers. (Check out Lannie’s solo material, by the way; it’s wonderful, thoughtful pop-rock.) Over the years, other Pengwins have included longtime guitarist Alan Petsche, bassists Delbert Raines and Karl Fickas, drummers David Bryan and Danny Wilkerson, and others too numerous to mention. At the recent Arlington gig, the law firm of Flowers, Petsche, Fickas and Wilkerson were joined onstage by keyboardist Dan Zimmer and guitarist Doc Davis. (By the by, Danny Wilkerson’s solo debut from a few years back is another aural delight well worth investigating.)

Back in the day, the Pengwins toured constantly throughout the Southwest and other areas, bringing their brand of spirited power pop and classic rock to rabid audiences. The band doesn’t play out as often anymore, but the local fan base and the memories remain, so the vibe for the recent gig was upbeat and anticipatory – and the Pengwins did not disappoint.

The 12-song setlist was a fantastic mix of originals (the nostalgic “Life After High School” was a particular highlight) and song after song of ace covers: the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” and Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” were all given the Pengwins treatment and simultaneously sounded reverent and completely fresh. A few cool curveballs were tossed: the Beatles’ (by way of Arthur Alexander) BBC Radio-era chestnut “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” and an invigorating medley of the fab four’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” were unexpected and welcomed. The covers not only displayed the Pengwins’ vocal and instrumental prowess – still sharper than sharp after all these years – but also their innate love of rock and roll (and their cool record collections).

While the capacity crowd enthusiastically supported the Pengwins with cheers and rousing bursts of applause, the band looked to be having the time of their lives onstage. And that, my friends, is what rock and roll is all about.