Sapphire Supper Club, June 11, 1998
In April 1995, Alex McMurray conned the owner of the Dragon's Den, a small, intimate club in the French Quarter of New Orleans, into booking the first Royal Fingerbowl gig. McMurray, veteran guitarist of at least a dozen local bands, at last found himself able to perform songs he'd written himself -- backed by the rhythm section of bassist Andy Wolf and drummer Kevin O'Day.
McMurray's slightly twisted, amusingly bleak lyrics soon caught on in New Orleans and beyond. Last spring, Royal Fingerbowl released their first disc for TVT Records, "Happy Birthday, Sabo!" Wolf and O'Day (who was replaced this year by drummer/producer Carlo Ditta) provided Royal Fingerbowl with a perfect, relaxed jazz/blues accompaniment to McMurray's lyrical depictions of the off-center eccentrics native to New Orleans, from the big-spending smoothie of "My Money" to the recluse on the verge of a shooting spree in "Otis Goes Postal."
McMurray arrived in New Orleans from New Jersey and graduated from Tulane University with a degree in English. At the same time, he began immersing himself in the local music scene. Despite his degree, McMurray's lyrics aren't the highfalutin drivel commonly devised by self-proclaimed "wordsmiths." Instead, they're insightful vignettes of the lives of far less than ordinary misfits. Listening to Royal Fingerbowl is akin to reading a Charles Bukowski novel -- there's an intrigue with the underbelly of society, a fascination that can change from amusement to sorrow on the turn of a phrase or change of key.
There is a huge amount of wry humor and wit in a Fingerbowl set but also an equal amount of honest emotion. They can regale a crowd with the Ramone's "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," then drop the mood dramatically with the melancholy original, "Ozona, TX." A Fingerbowl show is, without question, an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Even if McMurray's lyric's don't grab you, the band's spontaneity and interaction with the crowd are worth the ticket price alone -- but chances are it will take more than the drive home from the club to get the cast of twisted characters in McMurray's stories out of your head.