Monday night in Cambridge isn’t typically the hottest time to see a live show, but for the past five years, music-goers have looked to ZuZu’s “Night of the Living Deadhead” for an early week dose of free, great psych/pop/indie to start their weeks. Now that the weekly show is coming to a close, what kind of a hole does it leave in the scene?
“[Night of the Living] Dead Head was one of the best weekly nights Boston has ever known, incorporating touring bands and transforming a bar into a haven for independent music in true DIY fashion,” says Boston Compass editor Sam Potrykus, who has played Monday nights at ZuZu with Welcome Home, Ambitious Tugboat, and Manners. “It will be missed, but its memory will live on—reminding us all that any night of the week can be made legendary with a little thought and dedication.”
At 10 p.m. on a Monday, tables get dragged away from the dining room of the small restaurant (which is attached to and owned by the Middle East) and the space gets transformed with “Cinderella” whimsy into the coziest (and some say coolest) rock club on Massachusetts Avenue. Hand-made flyers hanging on the entrance, colored with crayons by ZuZu bar patrons over the course of the week, give a clue to the rough-hewn, makeshift sounds that are about to happen on the inside. The dude behind this operation is Johnny Allen, known for his work with Boston bands the Fedavees and headband, his Facebook alter-ego “Edison Tesla,” and also the main man mixing drinks at ZuZu on Monday nights. This month, Allen will be hanging up his towel after nine years and moving on (namely, a new bartending gig at the Independent in Union Square). Of course, he’s planning on ending things with a little fanfare.
The last two episodes of Night of the Living Deadhead (a/k/a ZuZu Mondaze, with a nod to the psych leanings of Allen’s musical tastes) are going to be doozies. On Nov. 18, Blinders and CreaturoS will provide the penultimate toast to all things Johnny Allen. CreaturoS is a natural choice since bassist Joe Marrett has been working alongside Allen at ZuZu for the last four years and will soon be taking over the Monday night booking there under a new, yet-to-be-decided name.
“There are a lot of people in this town who just like to check out what’s going on. Some of them work in the restaurant business and Monday night might be their party night,” Marrett says. He credits Allen with building up a great scene at ZuZu, a favorite for musicians and locals alike, and hopes to bring a similar vibe to his Monday nights, where ZuZu bar back Michele Freed will assist with shows. “Even before I worked there I hung out at ZuZu. Mostly I hope that Johnny’s bands get to play there more.”
For the last Night of the Living Deadhead on Nov. 25, Marrett gets his wish, as both of Allen’s bands—headband and Fedavees—will share the floor with Bobb Trimble’s Flying Spiders (hosting a live video premiere) in one more night of drunken love for one of the best scene-builders Cambridge has seen. Along with being one of the precious few free nights in town, ZuZu Mondays are booked by a guy who is not only the bartender, but also one of the biggest music fans in town. It’s all about sharing the love.
“After we played there, Johnny said something to me about how that was one of his favorite shows he had ever seen at ZuZu,” says Bobb Trimble (Flying Spiders, Jupiter Transmission). That’s quite a statement from Allen, whose Facebook alias “Edison Tesla” is known for meticulously archiving hand-drawn flyers and wonderful action photos (many which look like they are taken from standing on the bar) from years of shows. “He liked us so much that he was willing to sit in on drums one night at the Lilypad with no rehearsal. It was amazing.”
These echoes are heard far and wide across the Boston scene.
“Monday night is my favorite night of the week thanks to [Night of the Living],” says Mikey Holland (Mean Creek, Mikey French Fries, Trabants). “It’s my favorite spot and night in Boston. They feverishly work to get new bands into your head.”
Allen’s pairings of his favorite under-the-radar area bands with under-the radar touring bands are not only perfect for the chilled feel of a Monday night, but also something of a template for other area bookers.
“It was one of the only nights where you never had to worry about having a turnout because people would just show up regardless,” says Alex Marantz (Space Bums, Future Days, Fumehood, Golden Retriever). “It has to do with Johnny and Joes’ energy, the room itself, and the fact that it was free.”
While Monday’s at ZuZu will carry on in a different form under the guidance of Marrett, Allen will be moving on to some intermittent booking at Cambridge’s Lilypad, called “Odd Thursdays,” because he’ll be booking shows every other Thursday. ZuZu will miss him, and not surprisingly, he will miss it. But what will Johnny Allen miss most?
“I’ll miss seeing many people I love all in the same room at once — some playing, some watching, and most smiling,” he says.
[Photo credit: Johnny Allen]