Before the mid-90s, the prospect of a "show band" taking on post 50s rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and other pop music associated with teenagers, rural whites, and African Americans was decidedly uncool. Traditionally understood in the mid-20th century as small orchestras that might play at the Sands in Las Vegas or at supper clubs anywhere in America, show bands were the means by which saloon singers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Broadway stalwarts, or other interpreters of the Great American Songbook performed in public. So, if Sinatra sang George Harrison's "Something," it was not unlike seeing your uncle sporting shaggy sideburns and a paisley tie—or, to use a more recent example, a fortysomething dad showing up at an EDM concert bearing glowsticks.
Yet in the middle of 1990s, cocktail culture associated with Sinatra—portrayed amusingly in Doug Liman's 1996 movie Swingers—became a touchstone for twentysomethings tired of an increasingly clichéd notion that "authentic" guitar-centric music from the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or the Sex Pistols was the only valid popular music template. Gen Xers could now accept the idea of a show band playing a refined, exacting version of post-50s pop music by singers such as Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, or the Beach Boys. In other words: Maybe the artists who played your uncle's favorite music weren't quite so bad. And so along came Joe McGinty and The Loser's Lounge.
Founded in 1993 by former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist McGinty, the event has been the premier neo-show band in the New York area, and arguably in the United States, since then. It comprises a revolving cast of downtown New York singers and musicians holding residencies at several New York nightspots, most recently Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. Amidst the alternative rock and dance music movements in New York City in the 1990s, the Loser's Lounge treated all varieties of pop music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s as the emerging repertoire.
The Loser's Lounge has presented the catalogs of Stevie Wonder, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Lee Hazlewood, Queen, and scores of other artists since then, giving equal shrift to lesser known songs as well as those artists' biggest hits. For instance, a show dedicated to Paul McCartney a few years ago began with an obscure rarity, the 1975 Wings song "Rock Show," and also included better known hits such as "Live and Let Die." The Lounge's revue format showcases one featured singer in the spotlight at a time, typically doing one song per night. Shows not only feature gifted local singers like Connie Petruk, Sean Altman, and Tricia Scotti, but also have boasted cameos from the likes of Paul Williams (singing at a show devoted to his work), Cyndi Lauper, Fred Armisen, Richard Dreyfuss, Moby, Blondie's Debbie Harry, and Parker Posey. Clearly, respect and affection for the Loser's Lounge and the song catalogs run deep across New York's creative community.
This summer's show at Midsummer Night Swing is different in a significant way from most Loser's Lounge events. Typically, one artist's songbook is performed (or two, in the case of "battle" shows, where the songs of bands like Devo and the B-52s are played back-to-back in competition) to a seated audience listening respectfully as one would at a cabaret. But when McGinty and company decamp from downtown and head up to Lincoln Center on July 2nd, as the band has done since 2010, it's time for a dance party. The show officially begins at 7:30 pm and will salute the legendarily excessive Casablanca Records, in which the band and singers will tear through disco hits from that label's artists, including Donna Summer and the Village People. The point is for everyone attending the event to get down on an outdoor dance floor accommodating 1,200 revelers—after all, most show bands back in the day played music for dancing, too. Our advice? Show up early to learn the hustle and other disco dances, then stay late (after 10:30 pm) to strut until the wee hours with a silent disco, when beats-heavy tunes are streamed to your wireless headphones (provided free on entry).