If it weren't for the Mummers Parade, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams would probably be gearing up for a Philadelphia New Year's Eve gig. But the band's lead singer, South Philly native Joziah Longo, has friends who are Mummers, and, he explains, they're not keen on staying out late the night before their big gig.
Hence, the psychedelia-tinged roots band plays an annual "New Year's Eve eve show" in town for friends, family, and its expansive network of local fans to "musically report back to Philly what we've been up to for the whole year," as Longo put it.
"It's also a way for me to come back to my roots," said the 50-something singer-songwriter, who lives in Upstate New York with his wife, fellow band member and multi-instrumentalist Tink Lloyd. In addition to bandmates Sharkey McEwen (lead guitar) and drummer Tony Zuzulo, Longo's college-age twin sons, Chen and Orien, are expected to jam with the band at Thursday's World Café Live show.
Known for its high-energy, often transcendent performances, the avant-folk group plans to include its popular "Ghosts of the Grand Ole Opry" segment in Philly - a collection of reworked country classics - and tunes from its forthcoming fourth studio album, The Grand Slambovians.
"I'm an insanely prolific writer. I probably write more than Dylan these days, but because we're on the road so much, there's always a couple of years between albums," Longo said. To speed up the process, the band members narrowed down a list of 120 Longo songs to the 40 they liked best, then plowed through them in the studio "in a real '60s way - playing a lot of it live without overdubs," to create the final 12-song disc.
"I think it's a little more poetic and trippy and intimate than our other records," Longo said. The Grand Slambovians, featuring cover and liner art by the art-school-attending Longo twins, also moves the band away from the mouthful of a moniker it created more than a decade ago, in part to "throw the major [record] labels off our trail," Longo said.
"We tried to project this giant name so we couldn't be put in a box," he recalled. "It was so fun and big and crazy . . . and just stupid-enough-sounding that people wouldn't take it too seriously."
The band plans to reintroduce itself incrementally to fans as the Grand Slambovians, a name Longo said still carried a philosophical punch without being off-putting to potential listeners.
"We've hit the reset button, so to speak. I said to Sharkey the other day that I'm a late bloomer, and he said, 'Well, at least we're still blooming.' "