Road-testing The Rendezvous
The California Honeydrops break in a bright new venue
The California Honeydrops no doubt knew, even before they took the stage at The Rendezvous in north Chico, that there would be problems. It’s never easy to road-test a brand-new venue, one that has never hosted a show before, and that’s exactly what the Oakland-based band was doing last Friday (Dec. 6).
On numerous occasions during their first set, band members signaled to the sound-board operators that they were getting feedback and the mix was bad. They clearly were having trouble cohering musically. But they soldiered on, and fortunately many in the jam-packed crowd were passionate fans and more than willing to overlook the glitches.
Then, toward the end of the first set, the sound techs got the mix right, the lighting—which had ranged from blinding to blackout—evened out, and the band started to cook, serving up its tasty blend of blues shuffles (including a version of “Big Boss Man” that would have made Jimmy Reed proud), Mardi Gras-style marching music and down-home R&B featuring the amazing (I don’t use the word lightly) vocals of Lech Wierzynski.
Yep, that’s his name. He was born in Warsaw, Poland; his parents came to this country as political refugees when he was just a boy. According to the band’s website (www.cahoneydrops.com), his father was a lover of American roots music, especially jazz, blues and R&B, and “passed on the love of old stuff to me: everything from Louis Armstrong to Sam Cooke,” he says.
Wierzynski can do Sam Cooke, just as he can do Jimmy Reed and Dr. John (on that old jazz classic “You Rascal You”). He has a powerful voice that can range from lowdown and gravelly to high falsetto, and when he isn’t singing up a storm he’s playing guitar or trumpet.
On the latter instrument he forms a two-man horn section with saxophonist Johnny Bones. Both have a deep love for Mardi Gras-style marching music, and indeed at one point the six band members left the stage and snaked through the crowd, playing all the while.
The first set ended with a rousing version of the band’s signature song, “(I Liked You Better) When It Was Wrong,” on which Wierzynski, who’s a captivating showman, got the audience singing along on the refrain so loudly it almost drowned out the band.
The Rendezvous is a high-ceilinged white box of a room with exposed air ducts and a balcony opposite the portable stage. It’s owned by Steve Schuman, the longtime owner of North Valley Productions, and his wife, Stacey.
Last Friday, the venue was a work in progress. That afternoon, employees were still bringing in tables and chairs for the balcony (there were none yet for the downstairs, but they’re coming, apparently). A sign on the restrooms noted they weren’t “completed” and advised those needing relief to go next door, to Sol Mexican Grill.
During the set break, Paul Lieberum, the venue’s architect, told me it was “a miracle” that Schuman was able to bring off the concert and credited his “positive thinking” for the success.
Introducing the Honeydrops, Schuman said he and his wife intended The Rendezvous to be an all-purpose venue hosting everything from weddings to quinceañeras, as well as concerts. There’s more to do, however, if The Rendezvous is going to compete with, say, the Sierra Nevada Big Room as a music venue. It needs better stage and backdrop lighting, for one thing, and of course more tables and chairs downstairs and bathrooms that work.
The good news is that the sound system is top drawer, there’s a maple floor for dancing, and the place is attractive and clean. It has a lot of potential.
I have a rule when doing reviews to stay to the end, but I broke it Friday, leaving halfway through the Honeydrops’ second set. I had to pee, and Sol was closed.