Bill Mumy, Vicki Peterson, John Cowsill: Action Skulls Say Hello. And Goodbye?

(Photos by Lisa Margolis)

It was a debut farewell and a farewell farewell Saturday at McCabe’s.

The former was the first, and only, concert by Action Skulls, the trio of Vicki Peterson (the Bangles), John Cowsill (the Beach Boys and, of course, the Cowsills) and Bill Mumy (Barnes & Barnes and a lot of other things, musical and otherwise, including… well, you know.) They’re busy people. Doing more shows would be problematic. So this one, celebrating the recent release of their album, “Angels Hear,” will be it.

The latter was the last show put on there by the venerable venue for its long-time booker and producer Lincoln Myerson.

It was Myerson who made the “debut farewell” quip as he introduced the band while standing, as has been his custom, on the steps leading up to the side of the stage. And re his own leave-taking, off to New Zealand with his fiancée for new adventures, he got ever-so-slightly misty as for one last time he gave his admonishment to the fans to turn off their phones and fully enjoy the music and instructed us all that should there be any emergency we should grab a guitar from the wall and head out the back exit. action skulls-3

“If we like the guitar, we’ll find you,” he said.

Both of these goodbyes get asterisks, though, at the very lease. Let’s just go on record here: Action Skulls will be back. And so will Myerson. His return is a given. He’s planning to be back in town for a stretch in four months, and will continue in a key role, even long-distance, as McCabe’s will be doing various shows throughout the year to celebrate its 60th anniversary. There will be continuity and a smooth handoff to Brian Rodriguez and Koko Peterson, both of whom have worked alongside Myerson for a while now and will take over the duties. Just as it was when Myerson took over from Zacharia Love, who succeeded John Chelew, who stepped up for his original McCabe’s concerts boss Nancy Covey.

As for the Skulls, they and the audience were having so much fun, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be doing this again. Sometime. Somewhere. They all but said so. With each reference to this being the only show, to mentions of their busy schedules — drummer Cowsill’s in particular, with the Beach Boys seemingly on the road all the time — there was a less-and-less-subtle wink-wink.

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This is clearly a labor of love (well, Peterson and Cowsill are a delightfully wedded couple with rare occasion to work together) and friendship, a mutual admiration society. Cowsill noted on stage that he’d long been a fan of Mumy’s music, which reminds him of his late brother Barry. The band, such as it is, grew organically out of a spontaneous session around the piano at a Christmas party hosted by Mumy’s “Lost In Space” TV sister, Angela Cartwright, a few years back. Sharing love and roots in ‘60s sounds, Mumy recounted at McCabe’s, they played songs they knew, songs they didn’t, and as the session stretched long into the night-morning, and the spirits (not, specifically, the holiday kind) took increasing hold, the selections became both sentimental and sad.

action skulls-8The spirit (if not spirits) of that marked the show Saturday. There was banter galore — teasing, false starts, sideways glances, shoutouts to people in the audience — and a real looseness (the good kind) that powered the music too, mostly the songs from the album, mostly written by Mumy. (Cowsill marveled at his prolificness, while joking that they have much blackmail material in the nearly daily iPhone video demos Mumy, usually in a bathrobe, would send them.) Lead vocal duties were shared, Cowsill, with a very winning voice, naturally sweet and sturdy, taking the larger portion. But not surprisingly the highlights had them singing together, a perfect balance of Mumy’s somewhat gruffer tones blending with his compadres. Bassist Robbie Scharff and keyboardist Greg “Harpo” Hilfman filled out the arrangements , which echoed the ‘60s without even being slavishly retro, from the Byrds-via-the Mamas and the Papas “Mainstream” to the Buck Owens-via-Beatles “Feed My Hungry Heart” (see video below). Even when they veered psychedelic on “The Beast and the Best” — Peterson singing lead and Hilfman given room to stretch on a “freaky” solo — it never got hokey hippie.

As casual as the project may have been, the songwriting is anything but. The best of the bunch have some levels to then, explorations of love and meaning. “Faith Waltz,” Mumy explained, is an admiringly curious look at the earnest, heartfelt beliefs many hold, even if he doesn’t share them. “Standing on the Mountain,” one of two songs with all three getting writing credit, had them trading verses about being in different places, but seeking connection.

action skulls-7And threading through the show there were other farewells, these without asterisks. Loss of various kinds was a running theme of the night. Peterson’s “Map of the World” pays tribute to her late father. “If I See You In Another World” — well, the title tells the tale. And in a mid-show acoustic session, they reprised one of the songs that they had done late in the original Christmas party session, the Everly Brothers’ “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” and then honored mutual hero Tom Petty — who Peterson said that she had the thrill of singing with last year — with the departed rocker’s tender ode to his adopted state, “California,” the three of them fashioning luminescent harmonies.

A big farewell was saved for the encore. Rick Rosas — “Rick the Bass Player,” as he was known far and wide — was the fourth member of Action Skulls through most of the album’s making a few years ago, but died unexpectedly in Nov. 2014 at age 65. Rosas, best known for his decades of work with Neil Young and Joe Walsh, has the distinction of being the only bassist to play with Buffalo Springfield (the reunion shows of 2011), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and in Young’s Crazy Horse (he’d taken over for an ailing Billy Talbot for a 2014 tour). Wistfully talking about how much they’d loved having him as part of the band, and how much he’d enjoyed playing with them, the Skulls paid perfect tribute to him with a version of Young’s “Helpless.”

Helpless. A feeling of saying goodbye. A real goodbye.

2 thoughts on “Bill Mumy, Vicki Peterson, John Cowsill: Action Skulls Say Hello. And Goodbye?”

  1. Sorry it’s over. I know now not too get excited with the musicians; it was unrealistic to think they had time to tour. But on a good thought I’ve got their CD with autographs and that was realistic.

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  2. I came to LA from Seattle to see the show. It was magical. It was worth it. The players are all excellent. McCabe’s was sold out and I’m glad John, Vicki, and Bill stayed and did a meet and greet. Talented and gracious people they are. Who knows what the future holds for Action Skulls? Let’s hope they will play again soon.

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