I spent a good two hours of my Monday evening at The Pie Pizzeria a stone’s throw away from the University of Utah, but it wasn’t for the pizza.
It was to check out the musical duo of Mike Massé and Jeff Hall, two local attorneys who performed for the first time since June 2012. The team has been playing covers for years, but had stopped because Massé’s young son Noah had been diagnosed with cancer.
With Noah on the mend, Massé and Hall got together once again for their routine once-a-month show at The Pie that has become a word-of-mouth phenomenon. They generally play the first Monday of each month, and when I arrived at The Pie’s Pizzeria in Salt Lake City (the location with the seating), the pizzeria was already full and there was a long line at the door, despite the rain. I finally got in with my wife about a half-hour after their show started, and it was worth the wait. Massé has a near-flawless tenor and when singing with Hall, the two are far more than the best musicians playing regular gigs at pizza restaurants in Salt Lake City. I met an immigrant from London who had been steered to the restaurant from a friend of his from London who had seen Massé and Hall on YouTube.
They specialize in covers that range from the 1960s to today, and here is the set list (not in order) from 7:30 to 9 p.m.:
Collective Soul’s “Run”
U2’s “One Tree Hill”
Elton John’s “Rocket Man”
David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”
The Kinks’ “Lola”
Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”
The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”
Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia”
Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”
Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”
Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”
(Can’t you see that Massé is a Radiohead fanatic?)
With Massé playing acoustic guitar and Hall playing bass, the crowd inside the pizzeria wasn’t 100-percent quiet, but it was certainly the most quiet a pizzeria has any right to be. Rapturous applause greeted the two musicians at the end of each song, and with the addition of buffalo wings and the biggest chef salad I had ever seen, I it was one of the more enjoyable music experiences I’d had of late. (Note on the pizza: The pizza is great and my wife partook of the spinach-and-roasted tomato pie, but I am trying to stick to a low-carb diet. It’s tough to do in a pizza restaurant, but it was a little easier because the chef salad seemed like a “Man Vs. Food” challenge.)
I am not sure if they plan on doing the once-a-month show for the near future, but I will try to find out and report on when they have future shows. It’s worth it.
The only hiccups of the night came when we were in line waiting to order, and we were told by two different employees two different things: 1) We had to wait for a table before we could order; and 2) You can only grab a table if you have ordered. It caused a little bit of a cluster, with confusion reigning as bellies were empty. But, in defense of The Pie, I don’t think they expected the size of the crowd that showed up simply to see Massé and Hall. Methinks they need a bigger venue.
Here is a story I wrote about them in March 2011:
Mike Massé and Jeff Hall are Utah attorneys familiar with the wheels of justice. They’re also musicians interested in doing justice to songs by Pink Floyd, U2 and Tom Petty. The two longtime friends represent opposing sides in the criminal justice system -- Massé is a Salt Lake County public defender, and Hall is a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney -- yet they team up monthly to weave tight harmonies at the The Pie Pizzeria.
Set aside the members’ educational backgrounds, and the duo is much more than just another cover band. Using skills as a recording engineer that he learned in college, Massé has posted nearly 80 videos on YouTube that are brilliantly recorded and superior in sound and video quality.
The videos recently amassed more than 2 million hits, earning the Utah duo national and international fans.
“A guy last week asked when we’re going to tour,” said Hall, 40, of Sandy. “Another guy asked when we’re coming to Poland.”
“We are more appreciated by people out of state than locals,” said Massé, 41, of West Jordan.
Singing covers, and hearing reality » Hall and Massé met as undergraduates at Brigham Young University, when they formed a cover band. As graduation neared, reality set in.
“We both individually came to the decision that we needed real jobs,” said Massé, who was studying music with a sound recording emphasis and singing with the BYU Singers.
“I didn’t want to rely on music as a way to make a buck,” said Hall, who earned a humanities degree with an emphasis in music. He had acquired the rare skill of being able to build an organ, but realized that even in organ-rich Utah, that job “was a sure-fire way to poverty.”
So both went to law school, and Hall went on to become a law clerk for Pat B. Brian, the late district judge in Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties. He eventually ended up working for the district attorney’s office from 2000 to 2007, then returned to the office after the election of Sim Gill.
In contrast, Massé became a trial attorney working for the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association.
Sounding off » Massé is a musical nut -- he can whistle all nine Beethoven symphonies -- who began playing acoustic guitar at The Pie in 1993 as an outlet for creativity. Hall joined him on bass several years later.
They didn’t expected much from the gig, except a chance to relive their days as a cover band. Their only pay is tips and pizza slices.
But Massé, using his skills as a recording engineer, began recording their performances and posting them on YouTube. The videos caught on, attracting dozens of hits, then hundreds, thousands and now millions.
“The beauty of YouTube is that we have performed for the equivalent of Rice-Eccles Stadium from The Pie,” Hall said.
Playing for the world, from The Pie » Among the duo’s devoted fans are Jerry and Sherlyn Snapp, from Momence, Ill., population 3,300. Jerry found the videos on YouTube and showed them to his wife. “She was equally as impressed as I was. We began watching more and more. What I liked best initially about Mike and Jeff on YouTube was it wasn’t just another cover band. You could feel the music they delivered, and it made you believe.”
As the couple’s 25th anniversary approached, Jerry, 48, did something special. “I decided to surprise my wife with airline tickets to Salt Lake City to go see Mike and Jeff at The Pie Pizzeria,” he said, admitting he had never been on a plane before. “We were both so captivated by the music it made for the best concert ever. They were two very nice gentlemen who gave us the anniversary celebration of a lifetime. There were times we were moved to tears throughout the set.”
New Yorker Stephen Matthews came across Massé’s videos while searching for some Grateful Dead tunes. “Mike has a very unique sound and an incredible voice, [and] the harmonies with Jeff are phenomenal -- I am from the East Coast and love that Jeff is always in New York Yankees garb,” Matthews wrote in an e-mail. “To top it off, these guys are playing in a pizza joint.”
Matthews’ company, Alembic Global Advisors, was planning a conference in Deer Valley, and he shared the videos with his colleagues. “The first thing I thought was hiring these guys,” Matthews said. “They are even better in person. Mike brings song lists for the audience to make requests from, which I thought was brilliant, especially at a corporate gig.” Now he’s looking forward to hearing the pair play at The Pie -- as well as at the company’s next annual conference.
The videos also have a global reach, according to Richard Drew, of Australia. He came across a Massé-Hall video while searching for Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” “I was blown away by the clarity, the simplicity and emotion and the quality of the performance,” Drew wrote in an e-mail.
Drew had never traveled to the United States. “I was so impressed -- being a fellow musician -- I said to myself, ‘Damn, I’m going to Salt Lake City to sit in the pizzeria with a beer and soak up the superb talent.’ And I did, approximately three weeks later, and it was worth every cent.”
The Australian expresses such passion for the music that he sounds as if he should be appointed as one of the state’s economic-development advisers. “Everyone in Salt Lake City and beyond should be proud of this modest and extremely talented duo,” Drew wrote. “They complement each other perfectly, have a ball in doing what they do best, and give us all the opportunity to experience something extremely special. I will be back and will bring more Aussies with me!”
Stepping out, musically » Massé has been encouraged by fans all over the world to finance and produce his first album of original songs.
“It’s a big step for me, because if the project is successfully funded, it’ll mean my audience of supporters is interested in more than just hearing me reproduce the work of others,” Massé said. “It’ll demonstrate that there’s interest in hearing what I can do with my own material. I’m excited to see what happens.”
In the meantime, every first Monday of the month, he and Hall will be strumming their guitars and harmonizing at The Pie, playing to whoever will listen. And even if there is no one in the audience that night, the duo knows a global audience awaits.
And, since they’ve learned crime does pay in their day jobs, they’ve also discovered the ongoing joy of playing music has its own rewards.