Nearly 43 years ago, Lance Fingles and Chuck Darrow played their first gig at a high school dance. They’re still playing together now, although some of the players, songs and venues are different.
Also, the band’s not called Gunk anymore. It’s been Nytrous since the late ‘70s, before their 30-year hiatus, and upon their return to local stages in 2011.
“My kids are not kids anymore. I just needed to,” said Fingles on why he and his old bandmate began gigging again. “All my life I wanted to play and I didn’t do it, and it was time. It was my biological clock.”
After years of occasional basement jams, the pair picked up some new players and began hitting the open mic circuit before booking regular gigs at local clubs.
This week, they’re playing the Dog & Bull in Croydon this week, and the Broken Goblet in Bristol in January.
“We used to go to open mics every week, just playing all the time. Eventually we started getting real gigs and went through a few different phases,” said Fingles.
Today, they’re a somewhat far cry from their late-’70s heyday — “We were really prog. We had a guy playing synthesizers and our drummer’s favorite player was Bill Bruford,” noted Fingles — but still versatile.
Fingles and Darrow swap through a few combinations of guitar, bass and keyboards on stage, and their new drummer, Howard Husik, plays kit or hand percussion, depending on the gig.
Their new songs are more streamlined while still retaining the occasional prog-rock flourish, but their approach to cover songs is to stretch and reinterpret them.
A song like “Keep Me Hanging On” by the Supremes, for instance, gets a reggae treatment, while Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” takes on a fast, almost punk, feel.
“We like to change it up. And we enjoy that, we get as much of a thrill out of that as the original material,” said Fingles.
The group’s snagged a few high-profile gigs during their revival: they played alongside Ken Kweder and members of the Hooters for a benefit at the Legendary Dobbs, and kicked off the Light of Day Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey a few years ago.
But the band’s also expanded beyond the stage. Today, Fingles also runs two internet radio shows. One is the Nytrous Music Hour, where he spins his favorite songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
His newest effort, The Dungeon Music Series, launched in September. Here, Fingles plays independent music from the Philadelphia area and sits down with local musicians for conversations and live performances.
“Originally, all I wanted to do was play music, but somewhere along the line that changed,” he said. He arrived at the format after someone suggested he use the platform to promote local talent.
“He was right,” said Fingles. “There are all these great artists around that not a lot of people know.”
A recent show, for instance, featured up-and-coming singer-songwriter Ryan Cleary alongside Philly music staple John Faye. Another installment featured booking agents and open mic night hosts discussing what it takes to succeed in today’s music scene.
Playing both sides of the coin, as it were, isn’t exactly alien to the band — Darrow, who co-wrote a number of the songs, is a veteran entertainment critic and columnist who hosts the weekly “That’s Show Biz” program on Talk 860 AM.
For Fingles, however, it’s a new avenue and one that took some getting used to. More than that, it’s become a testament to the work he’s done over the last five or so years.
The Dungeon Radio Hour is already booked through April — almost entirely with artists and industry insiders Fingles has met since reviving Nytrous .
“It turns out I know a lot of people from the last five years of playing,” he said. “I’m really pleased with it. It’s much more than I’ve ever imagined.” ••
Nytrous performs at Dog & Bull, 810 Bristol Pike in Croydon, on Dec. 15 and at the Broken Goblet, 1500 Grundy Lane in Bristol, on Jan. 13. For information, visit reverbnation.com/nytrousband.com and gashouseradio.com/nytrous-radio.