Ska, reggae, Tejano, soul, zydeco, and blues found common ground, this past weekend at Rockefeller’s, in a show just as diverse as the Gulf Coast.
You can always tell when a show is gonna be good when there’s a white-haired white guy in a denim outfit and conductor’s house running sound.
The Bayou City Bang-a-Rang: A Nick Gaitan’s Tune Parlour Showcase at Rockefeller’s February 25 featured headliners Bandulus out of Portland, OR with their ska reggae soul charm and Los Angeles traditional ska/rocksteady band, Steady 45s. Opening acts included Houston’s Nick Gaitan, members of Houston originals including The Umbrella Man, The Flamin’ Hellcats and the Pistoleros de Texas and DJ Simmer Down from The Tejas Got Soul all-vinyl sound system.
I had never been to Rockefeller’s, but I was really impressed with the venue. There was a spacious dance floor downstairs in front of the stage, and upstairs featured a wraparound balcony for those who would rather sit and watch the show, or, as I learned trying to snap a pic from up there, make out with their S.O. Both upstairs and downstairs featured full-service bars.
Nick Gaitan went on first, and I couldn’t keep from smiling as I was sincerely confused (in the best way possible) as to whether he and his band were playing Tejano music or soul music. Then, all of a sudden, I was no longer sure if it was blues, Tejano, soul, or zydeco. Gaitan and the band were clearly very seasoned musicians, and listeners could pick up on that as they each got solos throughout the set (there was an accordion!). As each band member showed his musical prowess, the dancers began to hit the floor.
Next up was the Steady 45s. DJ Isaac played while the band and sound guys got ready, and the coolest part of that was that he only spun from vinyls– no computers or ready-made tracks came from his table. All the tracks were fun, old school Tejano soul, and since it was all vinyl, we were treated to sounds we could only hear live.
By the time the Steady 45s hit the stage the crowd was significantly larger and even more diverse. Guys and gals varied from “dressed to the nines” to “sweats and reclined,” from middle-aged to freshly 21, and from “I know all the words to these songs” to “I’m just here to drink.” One thing they had in common, though, is that the entire mix of spirits had their dancing shoes on as the Steady 45s played big band reggae soul.
That’s right, as island vibey as the music was, the 45s was essentially a brass band singing Motown hits. I tripped out at their version of The Temptations “Just My Imagination” followed up by a funky island “Mama Said” by The Shirelles. As much as it sounds like this would never work, it totally made me want more. In the swaggiest, party-fueling manner, the band ended its set with the trombone players magically coming from the back of the crowd and playing in the middle of the dance floor while the audience boogied around them.
The audience was all hopped up on Lone Star, the “National Beer of Texas,” when Bandulus prepped to perform. The party had already started before they even introduced themselves because they were dancing with the crowd to the DJ’s jams while simultaneously setting up their mics. It was already clear that crowd participation wasn’t going to be a problem here.
If I had to describe Bandulus with one word, I would immediately choose the word
“energy.” Before they even introduced themselves, the crowd was hopping up and down, and everyone had found a dance partner. The band’s foreman won over the hearts of the Houston music lovers with little adages here and there like, “This song goes out to anyone who didn’t vote for T****,” or “This song is dedicated to anyone who went through that Hurricane Ike s***.” But it wasn’t like that was what made the audience love them – the band was downright talented. Both of the women had the pipes to fight with the loud instruments and the chattiness or encouraging screams of audience members.
The best part of the night was Bandulus bringing the Steady 45s back on stage for a super fun, high-energy duet that had the crowd still jumping after the music stopped. No one could even leave the stage without everyone screaming for an encore, which they got from a tired band and a foreman with very little voice. The show, however, went on, and still managed to let out at a decent time.
I will definitely be back for the next Bang-a-Rang in the most comfortable of shoes to get my boogie on with the rest of the crowd.