A gangsta Brutilicus Maximus busts out the classics fo’ shizzle
Chico’s bands and venues have been reconvening, reconfiguring and reemerging with fresh energy and vigor. A prime example of this renewal was last Friday’s knockout show at the Riff Raff (formerly Juanita’s) starring the full-fledged return of Chico’s greatest-ever party monster, the eight-headed beast called Brutilicus Maximus.
Considering that the streets were being swept by an icy downpour, I was surprised by the number of folks who scurried in to catch the warm-up set by rock revivalists Swamp Zen, a five-piece outfit whose interpretations of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” and other ‘60s and ‘70s hits were high-lighted by Brian Asher’s tasty guitar work and Doug Stein’s occasionally cracked but always high-spirited vocals. In the early ‘70s these guys would have ruled the high-school dance circuit. And that’s a compliment from someone who was there.
By the time Swamp Zen barreled through a rousing closer of the Doors’ classic “Roadhouse Blues,” the crowd was packed in, revved up and ready to shake its collective booty. Which it was given ample opportunity to do as soon as the Brut Max crew, done up for the show in retro hip-hop regalia, performed the metaphysical stunt of creating enough space on the postage-stamp-sized stage for eight musicians to get loose and bring on the funk without knocking elbows every time they moved. Students of feng shui could learn a lot by watching these guys set up; they totally maximized the energy output of the tiny stage by employing every square inch to its fullest potential.
They proved that when they kicked into the locomotive, proto-disco groove of The Beginning of the End’s 1971 dance floor classic “Funky Nassau.” What had been a packed in, vocally raucous crowd immediately became a mini-maelstrom of joyously writhing bodies. Seldom have I seen so many people packed into so tight a space, all caught up in one giddily sensuous groove. Sure, copious libations had been flowing across the well-tended bar for over an hour, but it was the irresistible beat of Chris Rey’s drums, Jerry Moreno’s congas and Snake’s electric bass that released the positive energy stored in all those drinks.
Complementing the bottom end groove of Brut originals such as “Frat Boy Drug Bust” and “Black Leather,” guitarist Ska-T kept the funky rhythms elevated and fluid, firing up tons of incendiary leads and still providing plenty of space for sax man Dave “Feen Dog” Arnold to insinuate rowdy horn solos and accents, often synchronized with blasts from the trumpet of Doug “Vanilla Fudge Packer” Roberts. Filling the chinks of this wall of sound was the crafty keyboard work of the band’s cute as a bug’s ear youngster, Randy McQueen.
Any band as blatantly bodacious as Brut Max needs a front man who rides it like a bronco buster rides a wild stallion, and Jack Dammit Int’l (a.k.a. Bustolini’s owner John McKinley) is the perfect man for the job. Pot belly, graying beard and delirious demeanor belie one of the most versatile singing voices in town, one capable of sliding from the smooth, baritone croon of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” to the falsetto of the Bee Gees’ “We Should Be Dancin'” with no hint of strain. And, if the rest of the band is a bit over the top, persona-wise, McKinley is positively stratospheric, sporting several pounds of neck chains, cute pigtails and enough crotch-grabbing action to fill a Michael Jackson video.
Taken as a package, Brutilicus Maximus serves up an intoxicating Roman circus of dance floor delights that shouldn’t be passed up no matter how bad the weather. Just ask any of the sardines that wriggled out of the Riff Raff at 2 a.m. on Saturday. Word.