POP MUSIC REVIEW : Bonedaddys: A Band for the Body : The eight-man dance group tapped African, Caribbean and Latin styles in shaking the walls of the new Peppers Golden Bear club.
The band and the room were a good match Wednesday night as the Bonedaddys played the first dance-oriented show at the new Peppers Golden Bear. Both had the physical presence to shake things up quite nicely.
The Los Angeles-based Bonedaddys are an engaging dance band that explores the rhythmic pathways of World Beat, a melting pot of Third World styles. Along with the African, Caribbean and Latin American sources associated with World Beat, the Bonedaddys worked in a good deal of straightforward American funk during their 65-minute early set.
Instead of coming off as ethnic archivists, the unpretentious eight-man band kept the focus on igniting the rhythm and motivating the dancers.
The Bonedaddys are one book that you can judge by its cover: the band works in garb worthy of a New Orleans Mardi Gras street party. Amid the colorful kilts, fezzes and robes sported by various members, guitarist Jai Vatok’s furry Panda bear headdress was particularly loony, not to mention appropriate to the venue. (Already well into the merchandising game on its fifth night of operation, Peppers Golden Bear was selling little teddy bears at an outdoor booth, along with the usual T-shirts.) Special sartorial kudos also go to guitarist Paul Lacques, who sported a toga with a vivid color portrait of Martin Luther King on the back.
King’s image, underlined by the “I have a dream” slogan, was as close as the Bonedaddys came to provoking thought during their opening set. The band’s latest album, “Worldbeatniks,” does hold a touch of social consciousness with an original song proclaiming the return of hippie values, and a cover of Nigerian activist Fela Kuti’s sardonic “Zombie.” But the Bonedaddys’ primary appeal is to the body.
The opening “Soul Makossa” was held back a bit by singer Kevin Williams’ use of rap-show boilerplate to try to rouse the audience. (Peppers executive Ken Moon said 244 tickets were sold for the show; he added that Huntington Beach authorities have signed off on a maximum capacity of 570 for the club, up from early projections of about 500.) But the Bonedaddys proved capable of getting the dancers moving without histrionics in a set that cooked early, percolated along at a more easygoing pace in the middle going, then built to a fine climax with numbers like the Afro-chant “Dangwa” and the funky soul tune, “Shoo-Ra, Shoo-Ra.”
The room augmented the Bonedaddys impact: With its arsenal of high-tech audio and lighting gear, Peppers was unusually reflective of sound’s physical dimension. During a few synth-organ swoops, it felt as if a jet plane were rumbling outside the walls. Bass notes hit with a knee-shaking impact, too. Peppers also has an uncommonly springy dance floor: while dancers jumped and shook in an area near the stage, listeners sitting on stools toward the rear of the dance floor were shaken by the trampoline effect.
Further back, in the rectangular room’s raised, carpeted rear section, sight-lines over the dancers allowed one to see the musicians from the waist up. The music’s physical vibration carried to the back of the room, but the vocals did not. A bank of speakers aimed at the far seats was functioning, but vocals that were clear out front sounded muffled in the club’s rear half. Moon said speaker angles and placements will be adjusted to address that problem. There also were some audio glitches on stage, where feedback intruded on several Lacques guitar solos.
Interviewed after the set, Bonedaddys percussionist Mike Tempo said that “they seem to be pretty together here for just opening a new club.” The band also played at a private inaugural party at Peppers Golden Bear last Saturday. “We’re kind of helping them break it in,” Tempo said. “We hope it’ll become a regular stop for us. We like the place, and we want to be in Orange County a lot more.” (Perhaps Peppers also can become a regular stop for the Bonedaddys’ Chameleon Records label-mates the Wild Cards, a fine Orange County roots-rock ensemble whose lively, danceable shows are far too seldom seen in the band’s home county.)
Several Bonedaddys fans interviewed during the evening said they liked the new club but still missed the old Golden Bear, which closed early in 1986. If this shiny, affluent heir to the name can provide options for up-and-coming acts that haven’t had a high-profile forum in Orange County, some of that warm regard will probably rub off on it, too.