Saturday, April 30, 2005

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Concert Review @ Anaheim House of Blues

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but I was hopeful.

I’ve had a long history with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy going back to “my” Swingers days, and when I say “my” I mean I and a certain number of my close friends had a relationship with this movie. In a weird way it was influential, almost tangible – its comedy, its life philosophy, its proximity to the life and times of young men trying to figure out what being “young men” meant in the 90s and all that it entailed in hitting the scene and finding a girlfriend and going right on down to the little things, like not brutally and catastrophically swallowing your tongue when trying to talk to a pretty girl.

The music was a part of it too, of course. Big brassy swinging horns and crooning vocals and wild jumping jazz rhythms as though out of a beat novel and into the flesh and alive. Far different, far more alive and joyous then the 300th recitation of Stone Temple Pilots mopy grunge tripe blaring from the tired radio, at any rate.

There was that scene, near the end of Swingers, at LA’s famous Brown Derby, of course, when Mikey (Jon Favreau) finally gets the girl and they’re dancing and Trent (Vince Vaughn) and his crew are drunk and there’s Big Bad Voodoo Daddy jiving for all it's worth on “You and Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)”:

Hey Jack...I know what your thinking
That now's as good as any to start drinking
Hey Scotty...Yeah! What's it gonna be?
A gin & tonic sounds mighty mighty good to me

Man I know I gotta go
It's the same thing every time
But I don't think another drink's
Gonna make me lose my mind

So I think about my next drink
And it's you & me
And the bottle makes 3 tonight!

And there I was with my old road pal and traveling companion several years after those early New York gin and tonic days, 3,000 miles from home on a road trip to end all road trips down the East Coast and across the desert wastes of the South. We had made it to Los Angeles and found ourselves in that very Derby under the blaring sounds of that smooth-yet-exhilarating retro swing beat.

My pal, far more daring than myself, ensnared two pretty young ladies in conversation and brought them back to our table, perhaps the very table that Trent caroused at whilst cheering his pal Mikey on to go-man-go. I found myself next to a redheaded gal who, it turned out, wanted nothing to do with me but made eyes at my pal. It turned out he had made an incorrect logistical assessment and had chosen the wrong girl. Nonetheless, the two ignored Fate and made cross-conversation the whole night through as I dug the swing and tried to act vaguely writerly and not at all Nervous.

The next day I got assembled and hauled off to Mexico with four Asian girls and a young stoner I barely knew while my pal embarked on a whirlwind romance with his redheaded beauty.

Cut to nine months later and I’m living with my pal and two other guys in a shoebox apartment in the Greek Mecca of Astoria, Queens. The whirlwind romance was still going on cross country and it was a howling, hot gusts followed by cold blasts.

Somehow, someway, I got swept up in it all.

Over a six hour gyros and coffee session at the New Bel-Aire Diner (right near Steinway St. and the N Train) it was decided, impossibly and irrevocably: we were moving to San Francisco later that month in my car, the Millennium Falcon of automobiles.

It was crazy. It made no sense. The stormy redhead was in LA and we were stuck in an apartment with an immigrant’s view of the Empire State Building. But the West came calling and something in my gut made me answer. I had a lackluster job and like Jack Kerouac before me had a vague itch to get out on that groaning American highway once again.

Cut to seven years later. I’m still in California, now living outside Los Angeles in Pasadena with my beautiful wife (well met we were in Berkeley), dog, and cat. Pal’s relationship went down the tubes the very week we arrived those years back, and he’s now happily settled into a little town in Massachusetts with a fine young lady of his own.

And here I was that night, in Anaheim’s beautifully designed House of Blues for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, my past come a calling once again.

And it was magic.

From the moment the nine members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy took the stage, they owned the place. No ultra-polished bore-fest for the aging yuppies here.

They brought a party – but not what we’re used to these days, with cheese doodles getting soaked by the overflow from the beer tap or microwave hor’dourves to go with the cheap supermarket wine.

We’re talking old school hep cat swing: Champaign, suit and tie, wingtips, and don’t hang your hat at the door, kids: sport it fresh with an attitude to match. And in fact, kids better stay home because Daddy’s gotta get his Daddy-O on.

We’re talking upright bass spinning under the steady rhythm of Dirk Shumaker, nodding his head and smiling along to the beat; horns blaring, swooning, crying, cheering and mournful, sometimes all at once. A whole fisted lot of them their were, with trombones, saxes, clarinets, and trumpets singing in magic oneness.

In the middle of it was Scotty Morris, who put on a show for the ages. With a martini lounge croon that could change up with delightful ease, he owned an audience that was left hanging for more as each song sadly ended.

Each member of the band clearly loved being there, being part of the dance, digging the scene and blowing great music. It’s the kind of party you always want to be at, the kind of party you wish every party can be. The musicians played it up with frolic and antics, swaying from side-to-side, doing circles and figure-eights on stage, even stumbling around “drunk” near the end of You & Me. It was picture-perfect professionalism all around and maximum energy and vibe and wit.

The House of Blues was the perfect receptacle for the brand of musical religion the Voodoo Daddy preached. From my seat off the loge-level balcony, I looked down and saw fans resting their arms on the stage, fingers snapping, palms popping, creating a perfect and intimate enclosure to receive exquisite sounds. The acoustics were outstanding and perfect for the mix of horns, bass, and jive daddy groove.

You couldn’t ask more from a venue, a band, a party, a night.

It took me back to Swingers and my old traveling days, but more than anything it showed me what it means to live in the moment, to do what you love, to share it with others, to put it all out there to shine because you’ve worked your ass off and because you can. Most of all it showed me the best night I’ve had in a long time.

My wife and I sat next to a couple and began chatting away toward the latter part of the show. The gent, it turned out, was the manager of the Anaheim House of Blues. Clearly as enthralled as I by the show, he talked about how the House attracts a lot of punk bands nowadays, and how it’s a shame that there weren’t more bands out there like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy nowadays.

I couldn’t disagree.


Snake in Fall said...

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Have a nice day!

Eric Berlin said...

Okay, thanks for sharing.

The Sore Loser said...

Great post! In retrospect, the move to California almost makes sense.

Eric Berlin said...

Yes, it's all coming together. And full circle too, perhaps. And even other things maybe.

Anyway, thanks!

mpho said...


I love your writing in this post--both what you convey and how you do so. Put it this way. I flat out hated that movie and though I think they're talented, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy isn't my style. But, while reading your post, I thought about my own recent look backward and assessment of where I am or how far I've come. The strains of exiled Ugandan musican Geoffrey Oryema's "Makambo"--as far from swinging as one can get--seemed the perfect soundtrack for your story, and I knew exactly what you meant even though we're strangers and probably as different as night from day. Or maybe not. But the point is, it didn't matter. You can't go home again, but you can make a new one wherever you end up, right?


Eric Berlin said...

mpho -- thanks very much for the kind words. And yeah, I like what you say about forming homes as we move along the road. And that doesn't always imply a physical move, you know? Time is a road of its own, and if we don't get with it and get a packing, it can leave you in the dust.

Karol said...

Great story. I love Swingers and know what you mean about that 90's vibe. Though I'm a chick, that movie resonated with girls too.