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CABARET REVIEW : The Yacht Club Gives Nostalgia a Fresh Sound

Picture this: Four guys walk on stage wearing blue blazers, pearl gray pants and enough hair pomade to launch the Queen Mary. They zip into a briskly-paced vocal number that drips with echoes of Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Kings.

A throwback to the rah-rah, pre-World War II college years? Escapees from Disneyland? The ultimate in nostalgia music?

The Palm Springs Yacht Club, appearing at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Cinegrill on Tuesday night, was a bit of all those things. More to the point, however, the four-piece ensemble used its superb blend of musical skills to bring off an ingenious theatrical gimmick. Dipping into a wealth of whimsical, humorous, highly topical pieces from the past--with references to everyone from Fats Waller and Louis Jourdan to Crosby and Hoagy Carmichael--the foursome constructed a non-stop evening of off-the-wall music that was as deceptively creative as it was up-front entertaining.

There were so many high points that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Bob Reitmeier’s briskly fluid clarinet wove in and out of all the pieces, with special prominence in high-flying improvisational whirls through “I Know That You Know,” “Caravan” and “Running Wild.”

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Guitarist John Reynolds and drummer Matt Johnson displayed a full range of skills--from airy, tenor vocalizing to solid musical support. Johnson, playing only a snare and cymbal, got more variety from his limited resources than some drummers would from a full battery of instruments.

The PSYC’s most versatile member, however, was bassist Westy Westenhoffer. Switching from upright bass to baritone horn to over-the-shoulder tuba, he was a jack-of-all-trades, man-of-all-seasons. His romp through the audience carrying his tuba, pumping out a samba rhythm to “Brazil,” had to be seen to be believed. Even better was his vibrating-lips-on-the-back-of-his-hands version of “Edelweiss.”

There were other remarkable moments: A romantic ballad titled “October in Oxnard”; a radio commercial with the theme song, “Love Is Like a Cigarette”; the down-home blues, “I’m a Hog for You, Baby.”

The Palm Springs Yacht Club show, very simply, is something not to be missed. They return to the Cinegrill Tuesday and again on March 28.

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