Junk Parlor, the gypsy funk pop band from Northern California, topped off one of the most incredible evenings I have spent at a club or listening room. Wild music and total fun only begins to describe what went on inside the Venice club’s brick walls on Valentine’s Night.
Things started well early with Jenny Swope showing us how she can use electronics and her lovely voice to create an entire orchestra and choir onstage. Then, as she was packing up, crowds started streaming in, filing every seat, barstool, upper balcony and inch of floor space. People – mostly UCLA students and their friends - were packed cheek by jowl and in a party mood as the Street Hearts, a surprisingly good and very fun, mostly acoustic student band from UCLA came on. Street Hearts showed us how they won the Jazz Reggae Festival Battle of the Bands by kicking off a high energy, high enthusiasm 11-song set that began with the classic “Aint No Sunshine”. They were a bit ragged at first, but dropped into t heir groove, energized by the almost nonstop cheering from the crowd and gave us all a great time.
And then things really, really got hot. Witzend’s new Mistress of Ceremonies, Doña Oxford, put on her performer hat, set up her electric piano, introduced her band and let go with the hottest blues rock and boogie-woogie I have seen in LA. Somehow, the crowd found room to dance, because you could not sit still. Doña hit all the high notes while her funky rock drummer and lead guitarist got down and dirty. Doña was in top form, practically shooting bolts of lightning through the room in all seven songs. Her final performance, “Boogie”, ran almost 10 minutes of non-stop two- and one-handed blistering piano virtuoso. It couldn’t get any better than this.
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But it did; Doña introduced Scarlet Roads. Kaylee Bergin and her five bandmates lifted the energy level even higher with R&B and blues honed to perfection from touring in the US and Europe and hundreds of gigs. Even though they were barely older than the UCLA students who preceded them, Scarlet Roads played with a confidence and mastery that evoked Janis Joplin’s Cosmic Blues. Kaylee was nonstop, constantly moving, finger-snapping, dancing, crooning, belting and working with individual band members. Stephen “Saxy” Herring somehow managed to grin as he wailed on the sax, taking advantage of his radio pickup to stroll among the dancers while he blew. Lead guitarist Claudio Tristano – the quiet Italian – accented Kaylee’s lyrics with rifts so good they were almost painful, and solos that were even better. Drummer Peter Bergin and keyboard artist James Jannety kept everything moving along with beats and rifts at just the right tempo and volume.
Scarlet Roads packed up and the dance-exhausted and somewhat thinned out audience collapsed in their chairs and bar stools as the final act set up, Junk Parlor.
Everyone who stayed was very glad they did. Jason Vanderford and his band of seasoned Cajun, gypsy, R&B and punk rock veterans lowered the energy level but upped the smiles. The opened with a classical banjo instrumental done R&B style with a rock beat. Then they shifted to “Strange man” a song from their new album, Wild Tones, and Vanderford’s growl/howl voice began its seduction of the audience. The funky, catchy beat was just right for a tired crowd, fun and foot-tapping, but smooth enough to encourage you to listen. And of course, there were the lyrics, which brought grins and laughs all around. In between songs, you could see the twinkle in Vanderford’s eyes as he courted the audience with jokes and stories
Junk Parlor played cuts from the album, including his famous escape from suburbia song, “Vampires Never Die”, covered “Whiskey Bar”, and played another European banjo instrumental - something Vanderford is known for. RT. Goodrich, an outstanding drummer with years of experience in a variety of bands, most recently Besso Negro, kept the music in line with a perfectly pitched level of very complex drumming. Jimmy Grant livened things up even more with his electric acoustic guitar riffs and solos, and Tim Bush played the fastest bass I have ever seen – something he told me afterward was necessary in Junk Parlor’s music.
Junk Parlor wrapped up their SoCal tour Sunday night at the Trip in Santa Monica and is headed back to Marin County. I certainly hope to see them again soon, maybe on a bill with Doña Oxford and Scarlet Roads, for another night of wild music and total fun.
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