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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Concert Review – Anaheim House of Blues

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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 hors d’oeuvres 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.

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  • http://mike.shelikesit.net mrbenning

    Very nice Eric. I’ve wanted to see them in concert for a long time. It sounds like they’re as good as I’ve always expected.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    They were better than my highest expectations.

    One element I toyed with putting in the piece but didn’t: I haven’t been overjoyed at their studio albums — they haven’t translated that manic swing energy to record as far as I’ve seen.

    Definitely see them in as small a venue as possible (which I suppose is true of most bands). The House of Blues was about 1,000 people and was perfect — any bigger would start to lose the party feel.

  • http://mike.shelikesit.net MRBenning

    Brian Setzer was much the same way. I saw him open for Bob Dylan (go figure) about 7 years ago. I was never a huge fan of his albums, but he had the crowd going crazy.

    I’m sure you’ve seen them live, but Reel Big Fish put on a damn good show as well. They’re also fortunate enough to translate to album.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    That’s funny that you’ve assumed that I’ve seen Reel Big Fish. I’ve seen them live a few times and you’re right: they’re great. A friend of mine once scoffed that the Fish are good “for a college band.” I disagree — they’re fun and they’re good and they write some damn good songs. That said, I didn’t like their most recent album much at all, save for “Rock ‘n Roll is Bitchin'” which was fairly bitchin’.

    I imagine that Setzer would fall in similar territory as BBVD. I’m not that thrilled to hear a recording of his (not that I’m turned off… just not that turned on) but I imagine a live show would be great.

  • http://mike.shelikesit.net mrbenning

    I’m not trying to be “that guy,” but when I saw Reel Big Fish I was pretty excited to hear their cover of “Kiss Me Deadly” and many of their radio/more popular songs. I can’t remember if they played “Sell Out,” but “Beer” and “Trendy” were certainly at the show.

    Any band that’s willing to get on stage, have a good time, and make some off color jokes is perfectly fine in my book. Well, so long as they have the talent to rock the house.

    I think I assumed you’d seen them because of a list of punk bands I saw on your site a while back. They’re not necessarily punk, but even passive ska fans get into them.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Ah, I see. Yeah, they’re a great ska-rock band, I guess. Not really punk, though the easiest category to throw them in would be ska-punk, I suppose.

    They have a great and snarky writing style that I always dug on, especially on songs like “In the Pit,” where they call out drunk asshole frat boys who wear wife-beaters and, we are told, “punch and kick” whilst in the pit. Groupie alterno-chicks don’t get off easy with them either.

    “Trendy” is one of my faves of theirs — great song, fun as hell and an awesome fast-paced beat.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Eric, the pickings were a little slim for a mn scanning the category (me) but regardless I would have moved this up to Advance.net except that … … Wait, I did.

    To Advance.net which collectively is read by hundreds of thousands per week. The link there is just to the Cleveland site.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    mn ?