Surfing waves from the past
Beachy beats: The sounds of surf and garage rock rattled the walls of the Red Museum last week, courtesy of Boy Romeo. The three-piece band warmed a crowd of about 50 people bobbing their heads along to the music.
With a growing internet presence as Sacramento’s latest musical attraction, Boy Romeo definitely sparked my curiosity. Bassist Adam Jennings is also the drummer behind local groups like doom metal band Chrch and powerviolence band xTom Hanx, so it’s intriguing to hear that he’s laying down pop-driven bass lines with a new band that writes musical odes to the rock ’n’ roll sounds of the past.
Boy Romeo’s feel-good, ’60s-era sound had the room dancing, some with partners, and the multicolored mood lighting that filled the venue gave off a psychedelic dance party vibe. The band’s vocalist channels Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys in his croons, so when the band performed their rendition of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” everything just clicked musically. It was a fitting tribute.
The band’s original music, like its song “Answer,” showcases just how well these three musicians work together. With its catchy vocal harmonies and steady beats courtesy of drummer Patrick Shelley, “Answer” sums up the rock ’n’ roll sounds of Boy Romeo.
After their set, Jennings mentioned that the band looks forward to releasing its nine-track album on cassette tape at their next show on April 20 at the Blue Lamp, where they’ll be performing alongside acts like LaTour and Bachelor Paradise.
The evening continued with Light Thieves all the way from Fresno, who performed experimental indie rock also heavily laced with psychedelic elements. Gentleman Surfer closed the night with songs from its latest album Reanimate Ore. Its spastic, avant-punk music was a great send-off to the amalgam of genres that rocked the downtown venue.
Jazz with chemistry: Davina and the Vagabonds have become a mighty force. Listeners got a good dose of that power—and a demonstration of why good music thrives on an honest reaction to it, not pretentiousness—on March 17 at the Center for The Arts in Grass Valley.
For more than 10 years, songwriter, singer and pianist Davina Sowers has employed her Vagabonds, an all-male quartet (with alternates): Connor McRae Hammergren, drums; Steve Rogness, trombone; Daniel Eikmeier, trumpet; and Andrew Foreman, double bass. Adding occasional vocals to their professional-level playing, these fellows are crucial to arranging Davina’s music into steamy, New Orleans-flavored jazz.
That said, the ensemble originates from Minnesota, not Louisiana. It’s also hard to fathom that any of them set out knowing exactly how their style would evolve. They’re not trying to elevate jazz or turn it into pastiche; they’re playing music spontaneously, letting a natural chemistry guide them.
That hasn’t stopped them from reinforcing the Dixieland sound with showstoppers originally made famous by the likes of Louis Armstrong and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Alongside Davina’s original songs, they also cover songs from R&B, Fats Waller, rock and even Hank Williams.
Most importantly, Davina’s vamping and droll humor add something that much of today’s jazz has forgotten. Above all, Davina makes us laugh. In “Start Running,” for example, she sings about chasing away a young rival, turning a “hell-hath-no-fury” situation into a finger-wagging lesson on the realities of life.
For the comfortable and moderately attended venue at Grass Valley with room for dancing, Davina’s boogie-woogie-based pianism benefited from an 8-foot Steinway grand piano, as did the accompaniment to her powerful vocals in the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind.” On the eve of Chuck Berry’s death, their version of “Back to Memphis” was especially memorable.
Davina’s own early anthem for turning her life around, “Bee Sting,” still packs its venom—the story of a force of nature that is, as evidenced that night, far from over.