Butt bongo at the MoMo
Slam Buckra and the Groove Palookas launch into “Spank Watusi”—an original ode to a girl who likes to be paddled. After singing lyrics like “She paints a bull’s-eye on her butt to amuse me,” Slam picks up a Styrofoam butt and tucks it under his chin like a violinist preparing to play a concerto.
“It’s a butt bongo!” the bassist announces as Slam pounds a frantic rhythm on the synthetic cheeks. A woman yells out, “Hit it harder, daddy!” An unfazed Slam replies, “I will, dear,” and continues his booty-blistering performance.
The Harlow’s regulars, used to tribute bands in Afro wigs churning out familiar dance hits, don’t know what to make of these self-described “psychedelic groove loons.” During the first set, a tipsy girl in capri pants minces up to the band and grabs the bassist’s arm mid-riff. Slam stops the song and says, “Looks like we’ve got an important message here.” The girl asks if he’ll play “Brick House.”
“You know the song,” she giggles and begins to hum the bassline, moving her hips to her improvised beat.
Less demanding audience members emit mild confusion and clearly, the feeling is mutual. “I know we’ve got all night,” Slam confides to his microphone, “but I don’t think I’ll figure out this crowd.”
At irregular intervals throughout three sets, Slam announces that he knows what the crowd needs and produces yet another astounding display. He offers shiny gold gift bags containing CDs, magic wands and roller-skating Barbies. He introduces a mannequin in a Spam T-shirt and uses the back of her head as a guitar slide. There are balloons. There’s an inflatable baby. Slam tries to sell the crowd some hairless, hoofless Kentucky blue goats. Someone turns off the lights, so the Palookas groove by candlelight.
As cigar bar oxygen deprivation takes hold, the audience loosens up. The band rocks, rolls and medleys its way through an impressive array of original songs punctuated by covers ranging from G. Love’s “Cold Beverage” to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” By the time the Palookas play their hardcore version of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” there is a plethora of drunk people shaking their groove things. One particularly vociferous young lady yells an impatient “Come on!” every time the music pauses.
By last call, the crowd is wound up—either from the music or from watching the fervent make-out sessions on the lounge’s plush couches—and it’s up to Slam to calm them down.
“I know what this crowd needs!” he announces. He pops a tape into a player behind him. The opening notes of “My Way” fill the lounge, but this isn’t Sinatra’s standard. This is a Buckra original. Slam, gripping the microphone in one hand and a cocktail in the other, sways slightly through a multi-versed karaoke tribute to alcoholism. “I stand tall … I may fall down and crawl.” The crowd holds up candles and lighters. He belts out the final line, “I drank them … myyyyyyy waaaaaaaay,” to cheers and applause. It’s just what the crowd needs.