It started out as a fun band, a group of Los Angeles songwriters and musicians who wanted to let loose and play the style of music they had all been weaned on: the good-time Memphis soul of the 1960s.
And today, 10 years later, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack is still a fun band, a band you’d want to have play your party, a band that can shake, rattle and roll with the best of ‘em.
That was evident from their Friday night concert at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, where they’ve been appearing periodically for the last five or so years.
It was essentially the diner scene from the movie, “The Blues Brothers,” played over and over again--a whimsical retrospective of the glorious Stax-Volt era rather than a serious documentary. Jack Mack and the Heart Attack aren’t out to resurrect the past, just remember it. And remember it they did, paying homage to the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and James Brown by building up from the foundation instead of merely rummaging through the ruins. To be sure, they played a few covers, including faithful renditions of Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” and Brown’s “Cold Sweat.” But there were many more originals written in the same style and delivered with the same sense of passion and urgency. If these guys are reviving anything, it’s the sass and the style rather than the actual tunes.
The band opened with the infectious “It’s A Beautiful Thing,” off their latest album, “Jack It Up.” It’s a monster of a song, rife with majestic horn punctuations and celebratory organ swirls. Then came a few older songs, including such crowd pleasers as “Wonderful Girl” and “True Lovin’ Woman” that have helped make Jack Mack and the Heart Attack a consistent top draw on the Southern California nightclub circuit.
Particularly compelling was the group’s interpretation of Procol Harum’s classic “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” also off their new album. By slowing down the tempo and heating up the passion, they effectively transformed a cool rock song into a sweltering soul masterpiece, much like Joe Cocker’s brilliant reading of the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Singer Mark Campbell may look like a cross between Roy Clark and Sam Kinison, but he’s got a deliciously throaty voice that sounds remarkably like that of the late Sam Cooke. And the four-member Heart Attack Horns, led by tenor saxophonist Billy Bergman, are a bundle of energy and intensity. They make the much-ballyhooed Tower of Power horn section seem almost wimpy by comparison.
From the first song until the final encore, the dance floor was a throbbing, sweating mass of bodies. Even after the encore, it took awhile for the crowd to disperse, as though no one wanted to accept the fact that the concert was, indeed, over.
Opening the show was a local rock band, Jerry McCann and the Band of Giants, who sadly failed to live up to their name. McCann is an excellent guitarist who rendered some remarkably fluid, bluesy lead work, but that’s about the only good thing that can be said about their performance.
Their rhythm section was weak, their material was mediocre, and too often they fell into gimmicky arrangements--from pseudo- reggae to pseudo-country--that made the whole thing sound even worse.