The Critical Mass

Watkins says what we’re all thinking this holiday season

It was clear during last Monday night’s Watkins & the Rapiers show at The Little Theater Café that something was up. While keeping its infamously loose, intra-band banter intact, the group seemed a little musically tighter, a little more focused, than usual. In fact, the show was an undressed rehearsal for Wednesday night’s big, multi-media concert at The Little Theater.

It’s the second-annual Watkins & the Rapiers Christmas in December show, which last year just about sold out the 300 seats. Pretty good considering the band gives away the music for free during its December residencies at The Little.

Watkins & the Rapiers’ Christmas shows are the closest thing to a unique Holiday tradition to which Rochester can lay claim. The group says it has composed the most original Christmas songs of any band in the world, and no one has stepped forward to dispute that. More than 70 songs at this point, and most of them are pretty worthy. The band is generally drummer Marty York, guitarists/bassists Tom Whitmore and Kerry Regan, guitarists Scott Regan and Steve Piper and multi-instrumentalist Rick McRae, and for the holiday season it adds brass and reed player Pete Hasler. All except York write and sing, so after a couple of decades of taking out their holiday frustrations in song, it’s easy to see how the Christmas tunes have added up.

Typically, a Watkins & the Rapiers Christmas compostion is sardonic, sarcastic, satiric. They’re Dr. Demento worthy. Whitmore’s compositions can be downright grumpy: “Why Won’t Christmas Leave Me Alone?” Hasler’s contributions take a similar dim view of rituals such as untangling Christmas lights. One of the band’s biggest crowd pleasers in McRae’s rousing parody of a communist proletariat anthem, “Arise Ye North Pole Workers.” Kerry Regan’s clever wordplay can be provocative, and he holds the distinction of writing the only Watkins song that has been quietly retired. “Santa’s Got a Gun,” the first-ever Watkins Christmas song, in which the jolly icon takes a hostage, has been deemed inappropriate in this age of gun violence.

Yet some of the Watkins Christmas songs – ones by Scott Regan and Piper in particular – are heartfelt, and even sentimental. Offsets to the mayhem.

And behind the band, showing on the screen, multi-media offerings to enhance the lyrics, including a video shot by the band especially for this evening.

The doors open at 7 p.m., the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at The Little, 240 East Ave., and at

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