Halloween is nearly three months away, but a frighteningly good band nevertheless will haunt the stage Thursday at Newby's.
Here Come the Mummies is a Nashville funk-rock outfit that, since its founding around 2000, has been winning rave reviews for its colorful, energetic live stage shows and expertly executed albums, including its recently released sixth, Cryptic. Overshadowing all that, however, is the fact that the band is made up of mummies, those head-to-toe-wrapped undead creatures of ancient Egypt that caused Brendan Fraser so much trouble on the silver screen.
The story goes that the members of the band were musicians in ancient Egypt who ran afoul of the pharaoh.
"Like most musicians, we chase ladies," says percussionist Java Mummy, the group's spokes-mummy. "Unlike most musicians, we happened across the daughters of a pharaoh. Some dads chase the boys away with a bat; others curse them into mummy-dom."
Thousands of years later in 1922, Professor Dumblucke IV dug them up, unleashing the horn-driven 12-piece band on the world to fulfill their mission of finding the ultimate musical riff that will at last put their souls to rest. Decades later, that quest led them to funk music.
"Actually, we think of ourselves as more of a rock band, though thrusting pelvis is always at the forefront regardless of the style," Java says. "We have always played the style best suited to make the ladies dance. While that style has evolved, its consequence has not; thus, we are still at it."
Here Come the Mummies (the name is a play on the title of the pilot episode of the '60s TV show "The Monkees") are hardly the first musicians to adopt silly alter egos. Beyonc had her Sasha Fierce and Garth Brooks his ill-considered Chris Gaines persona. Locally, groups like the Oblivians, the Delta Queens and many more have engaged in similar illusions.
But rarely has the conceit been so successfully adopted and stubbornly adhered to. The band and their handlers refuse to acknowledge anything other than their cover story, conducting all interviews in character and stonewalling inquiries about the members' actual identities.
Of course, it's almost impossible to keep secrets in the age of Google, and even a cursory Internet search turns up a half-dozen names of suspected members of Here Come the Mummies, all ace Nashville sidemen, including some Grammy winners, who for whatever reasons contractual, artistic or just eccentric may have chosen to keep their participation in the group under wraps, so to speak.
Someday, the bandages will come off, Java promises, and when they do, "you better bring a broom."
Aside from the occasional spooky sound effect or horror-slanted lyric, the contrivances mostly fall away on the musical level, revealing a band with a grasp of funk-pop history worthy of a 5,000- year-old, embracing James Brown, the Gap Band, the Commodores, Santana, the Doobie Brothers, KC & the Sunshine Band and many more.
Here Come the Mummies released its first album, Terrifying Funk From Beyond the Grave, in 2002. Since then, the band has had songs featured in several films and TV shows, most notably "Scrubs," which utilized its 2003 Latin-tinged song "Dirty Minds." The band has appeared on the syndicated morning radio show "The Bob & Tom Show" and in 2009 released a live DVD. (They have plans to shoot another one this October at Nashville's War Memorial Auditorium.)
Here Come the Mummies' latest album, Cryptic, released in May, is another eclectic but soulful collection. Whether on the old-school funk floor-filler "Chaperone,' the '80s synth-pop jam "Devil Better Run" or the reggae-inflected "Cruel Old Sun," it maintains the band's focus on good-time dance music.
"We could not be more proud of Cryptic," Java says. "It represents us perfectly by combining sexy metaphor with groovy tunes from rough to sweet. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that everybody loves a sexy mummy."
Here Come the Mummies with Young Pretty Thieves
9 p.m. Thursday at Newby's, 539 S. Highland. Tickets: $15, available in advance online at newbysmemphis.com; 901-452-8408.
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