With one of the coolest band names ever conceived, 10,000 Maniacs has been around since 1981, the year this writer/photographer graduated high school. The Maniacs have an impressive catalog of material comprised of nine studio albums, six EP’s, and five live albums. Both “Blind Man’s Zoo” (1989) and “MTV Unplugged” (1993) reached #13 on the US charts. The current line-up of the band is Dennis Drew (keyboards), Steve Gustafson (bass guitar), Jerry Augustyniak (drums), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar), John Lombardo (guitar), and lead singer and violinist, Mary Ramsey. The bands seminal album “In My Tribe” was released in 1987, spending 77 weeks on the charts and peaking at #37 producing the hits, “Like the Weather” and “What’s the Matter Here.” “In My Tribe” which just celebrated its 30 year anniversary, was voted as one of the 100 most important releases of the 1980’s by Rolling Stone Magazine. The “MTV Unplugged” album was released in 1993 following which the lead singer, Natalie Merchant, announced that she was leaving the group. Marchant went on to record eight solo albums including “Tigerlily” in 1995. Merchant was replaced with Buffalo native and classically trained violinist Mary Ramsey. Most bands would not have been able to survive after the departure of their high profile singer and songwriter, but the Maniacs have survived with a loyal fan base, staying in front of them with a steady touring schedule and recording new music, thereby avoiding the trap of being in a time capsule trading on early success. The band consistently sells out mid-sized venues across the country.
City Winery provided the perfect venue for a series of sold-out performances by the 10,000 Maniacs. With a capacity of approximately 300 people, the 45-60 year old demographic enjoyed the format of listening at communal tables while eating and drinking. The Maniacs gave their fans what they came to see, an energetic set of material drawn from their catalog including the familiar hits which helped define the early 90’s era of college rock along with R.E.M. Also featured on the 17 song set list was Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” which became their last top 40 hit in 1997, and Patti Smith’s “Because The Night,” the Maniac’s highest charting hit (#11) off the 1993 “MTV Unplugged” album. The band’s sound was tight, which was expected from members who have played together for so long, and it was superbly showcased by City Winery’s superior sound system. Ramsey’s vocals were lush and her phrasing impeccable as she delivered the goods on the hits, “What’s The Matter Here,” “Candy Everybody Wants,” and my personal favorite, “These Are Days,” the latter from the 1992 album, “Our Time in Eden.” Ramsey’s featured violin playing was also a delight, highlighting the strengths and distinctive flair of the band’s current line-up. The celtic violin interlude woven into the classic “Trouble Me” proved hauntingly beautiful. Founding member and bassist Steve Gustafson was fun to watch, kitted out in a black suit, red tie and hip felt hat with a red feather; he held down the rhythm section pounding melodically on his Hamer bass. The performance at City Winery was highly entertaining and one of the fans at the next table shouted out, “Natalie who?” upon leaving. Despite Merchant’s songwriting credits on most of the hits in the band’s set list, Mary Ramsey has certainly put her imprimatur on the band and is a first rate singer and violinist as she demonstrated on the final encore, “Marie’s Wedding,” from the 2015 album, “Twice Told Tales,” an updated version of a Scottish folk song written in 1934.