LOCAL LIVE! In Denver, About Denver, Musically Denver!!!!
Greyboy Allstars & Dirty Dozen Brass - Feb. 21, 2009 - Ogden Theatre
The show was billed as a “Mardi Gras Celebration.” It was still a few days before Fat Tuesday and Denver is a few miles from New Orleans but, what the heck: Close enough! With both the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Greyboy Allstars on the bill, the evening promised to be a fun one no matter what the calendar said or even where we were.
The Dirty Dozen opened the show Saturday night sporting only a half dozen band members. The front line featured trumpet, tenor sax and baritone/soprano sax. The rhythm section had drums, guitar and, of course, Sousaphone. (You know there’s fun afoot when there’s a Sousaphone on stage.) The band got right down to some serious New Orleans inflected funk. Most of the band members sang as well as played and consistently evoked images of New Orleans and its party tradition. It was definitely music to let the good times roll.
The DDBB didn’t stick with the funk exclusively, but mixed in plenty of sonic gumbo and jambalaya and eventually pulled out the standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I’m not sure, but I thought I heard one of the vocalists chant “Super Bowl” several times right after the word “Saints.” Somebody was hallucinating. One of the highlights came toward the end of their set, “I Feel Like Spankin’ Somebody.” Under normal circumstances, given the advanced age of some of the band members (especially bari sax player Roger Lewis who the band introduced as the “Dirty Old Man” and who was handling the vocals on this one), you would expect most of the young women in the audience to run in the other direction. However, with Mardi Gras fever running rampant, the band easily coaxed a couple sharply dressed young ladies onto the stage for some bumpin’ and grindin’. Yeah, the DDBB guys know how to party.
That was a tough act to follow, but the Greyboy Allstars hit the stage about a half hour later and immediately launched a funky blues jam. They followed that with “Still Waiting,” (attached) a tune from their most recent album, “What Happened to Television?” from 2007. During their two sets of the evening, they threw in about five or six songs from that disc. The highlight for me, though, was “Lady Day, John Coltrane,” a tune written by Gil Scott-Heron from the early 70s. That one has a driving rhythm and is just full of energy. I used to play it on the radio back in the late 70s and was one of those tunes that helped me get into jazz. Scott-Heron used to tour back then and it was fun to hear him play it, but he’s been spending most of his time in jail over the last few years so I’m glad somebody else is picking up that banner while he’s unavailable.
Greyboy is fronted by Karl Denson on various reeds and vocals. Only about a quarter of the tunes were vocals so Denson spent most of his time juggling his alto, tenor and flute. His playing, against the generally funky backdrop, tends to give the band a Crusaders feel (again from the late 70s). Keyboardist Robert Walter consistently kept up a rhythmic groove with his Hammond B-3 (running through a Leslie), Rhodes electric piano and synthesizer. His solos kept the groove party in high gear. The other guy on the front line was Elgin Park, a funky nurd, on guitar and vocals. The contrast between his look and his scratchy, infectious guitar lines was almost comical. He wore a sport coat and heavy rimmed glasses topped by a Bill Gates haircut. Since the last time the band came through Denver, they’ve replaced their drummer with Aaron Redfield holding down that chair, which he did energetically Saturday night. Chris Stillwell is still the bass player and he and Park switched axes for a couple tunes toward the end of the show.
The front line of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band sat in with Greyboy for only one tune, an appropriately New Orleans-ish jazz/funk/groove; that one coming as the opening song of the second set. Besides Gil Scott-Heron and the Crusaders, I heard other echoes of the 70s including something that sounded like it came straight out of the George Benson songbook (sans strings fortunately) and a spacey jam that would have been right at home on a Lonnie Liston Smith album. They wrapped up the evening with an instrumental encore that actually had a bit of a country/western feel to it. Let the good times roll, pardner.