If you walk into Provincetown’s Tin Pan Alley or The Club in the evening, you’re likely to hear Mike Flanagan’s fingers on the piano or the sound of his saxophone. But now you don’t have to leave the house for a live Flanagan experience — the artist, who goes by MikeMRF, released Wait Just Listen, a live studio album with longtime musical collaborator Lisa Bello, last week.
Ever since Flanagan and Bello met at a 2010 New Year’s performance in Boston’s Club Cafe, they’ve “pushed each other to be fearless and take musical risks,” Flanagan says. “That live ride for the audience became our signature.”
Wait Just Listen, a collection of hits from the pair’s 2019 album Mob Music and Bello’s solo projects, was recorded in Boston last November with a live audience. It’s available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify, with a filmed version on YouTube.
Backing Bello on vocals are Sharla Solomon and Lambert Rahming. Their harmonies create some of the album’s most powerful moments, particularly on the poignant “Don’t Come Down.” Seth Woodruff on bass and Vancil Cooper on drums (he also helped produce) round out the band.
Flanagan, who is also the entertainment director for the Post Office Café and Cabaret and Tin Pan Alley, plays piano and saxophone on the album and co-wrote many tracks with Bello. “Lisa is the voice of my writing,” he says.
The band’s former third member, Justin Waithe, joined Bello and Flanagan in 2011. He died in September 2020 of an undisclosed cause. “Wait Just Listen” was Waithe’s Instagram handle — the album’s title is a tribute to the “chosen family member.”
“Working in music in Boston, I encountered a lot of homophobia,” says Flanagan, who is gay. But the trio — Bello, Waithe, and Flanagan — had a “loving camaraderie that added power to our artistry. We felt free to express ourselves artistically.”
Four songs on Wait Just Listen are revamped from Mob Music. When Flanagan taught a composition class at New York University, he says a groove a student developed caught his attention. After buying the beat from the student, it became the base for “Tip Jar,” a power-pop song with catchy refrains about supporting service workers.
While Bello and Flanagan separately wrote lyrics for “Tip Jar,” Flanagan says they collaborated on “Wedding Day” at every step. On Mob Music, “Wedding Day” sounds a bit like something out of a Disney movie, but on Wait Just Listen the band replaces the synthesizer and vocal reverbs with a slightly swung drum backbeat and grooving piano.
Both Mob Music’s “Me Completas” and the version on Wait Just Listen feature Latin-pop sounds from the singer IISMA, who performed the song with Flanagan at the 2019 Puerto Rico Festival in Boston.
Flanagan says that some songs changed during rehearsal for Wait Just Listen. On “Trying,” Flanagan and Bello taught new background singers Waithe’s “mind blowing” harmonies by playing the song more slowly, Flanagan says. As they slowed the tempo, Flanagan says he and Bello realized, “Whoa, this really works as a ballad.”
Songs from Lisa’s solo projects, including her 2021 album Overnight Shift, make up the rest of the album. Wait Just Listen’s take on “Organic Produce” keeps the syncopated bass groove, and the rising “oh yeah yeah yeahs” in the backing vocals sound even more convincing live.
Though the electronic drum sounds on Overnight Shift’s “Organic Produce” serve the song’s laid-back flow, Cooper’s drumming throughout Wait Just Listen is full of live power and texture. He’s a dynamo with dynamics; his light cymbal touches add color to softer songs.
The band used two takes to record the first five songs on the album, but the final five songs were all single takes. Flanagan had to race up Route 6 later that evening to do three gigs in Provincetown.
Many of the album’s tracks deal with love’s pitfalls. In “Temp Service,” Bello sings the refrain “love is temporary,” and she opens the album with the line “can’t nobody love you like you love yourself” on “Organic Produce.”
“Both Lisa and I only date men,” Flanagan says, “and we commiserate with our relationship stories.”
The Wait Just Listen tour began on April 8 in Manchester, N.H. and will take the band as far as Palm Springs, Calif. and Nashville, Tenn. before arriving at the main stage at Boston City Winery, “a total dream,” Flanagan says. They will finish out their tour in Provincetown with a May 15 performance at the Post Office Café and Cabaret and a May 16 performance at The Club.
The Club performance will have no cover, but if you’re enjoying the music and have some extra cash from your summer gig, follow the suggestion of the album’s final track and “put it in the tip jar.”