THE SOUL MOVERS
+ THE INTERCONTINENTAL PLAYBOYS
Friday, October 16, 2009
By THE BARMAN
Some people don't like their reviews cluttered with colour and personal reflections. I'm just an unassuming guy who's starved for time, so I'll cut to the chase: The Soul Movers exceeded expectations created by their excellent long-player and put a sock in the gobs of those anticipating a karaoke show or a cabaret.
For the uninitiated - and there seem to be a few with the show mildly under-attended - the Soul Movers are an updated exercise in Memphis soul, led by ex-Radio Birdman leader Deniz Tek and featuring a newcomer on vocals, Miss Lizzie Mack. They have a new album in the racks ("On The IN Side").
Tek and Mack are at the core with extra players added as geography dictates. Gigs in Montana, Paris (as an acoustic duo), Newcastle, Australia (with this line-up) and Cronulla, Sydney, precede tonight so although reports had been good no-one's expecting an overly slick combo. More on what they did give us in a minute but first to openers (and I-94 Bar Records artists!) the Intercontinental Playboys.
The Playboys have been lying low since their album launch with vocalist Tom Von Spatula on an overseas mission to replenish his collection of antique handmade Bolivian rainforest timber smoking stands. They hit their straps quickly with a smart set that's peppered with should-be hits and fuzz-organ nuggets.
The 'Boys find themselves pulling out a few lesser-played stuff in the end, having pushed through and exhausted the stock of recent tunes. "Circle Girl" goes over especially well and the enthusiasm grows from that point on. Damned if Ray Charles wouldn't have been spinning just a touch with the fuzzy but affectionate treatment he copped at their hands but it all sounds pretty cool.
"Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Kill!" is a staple and that's no bad thing. I know the band has moved away form its early Cramps influences but chanellling the trash asthetic and the raw sounds of the original rock and roll makers is as valid now as it was then, so more power to them when they look back.
Melbourne dates are locked in for the end of the month and there's a buzz down there because the bass-less Playboys are so unlike stock standard rock quartets. Miss them at your peril.
Tonight's Soul Movers line-up of Tek, Mack, piano-organist Pip Hoyle (Visitors, Radio Birdman), bassist Andy Newman (Visitors and the reconstituted Decline Of The Reptiles) and drummer Calvin Welch (more on him soon) mightn't have had much time to coalesce but are excellent players in their own right. The backline has been working to stamp their own mark on the material with some significant re-arranging of the songs.
Word from one source was that the Cronulla gig at the Brass Monkey supper club was quiet enough to hear after-dinner gastric reflux. Notes is a bigger room. So show us what you got…
"Krazy Kats" from the album is the opener and breaks the ice while the band find its feet. The Soul Movers and audience understandably are feeling each other out, with most of the crowd seated at tables. Evidently this is an odd sounding room from the players' perspective, with a "dead" ambience similar to a studio. It's clear that if the crowd's going to sit back then the band's going to kick the energy levels up, and these accessible songs sound ballsier much than on the album.
A barefoot Lizzie Mack is full of confidence and showing off the power in her vocal that prooves she's not just a studio quantity. She's working under the handicap of a scratchy throat tonight but it doesn't seem to impair her apart form some gravel in the between-song patter.
Pip's stage get-up is killer. Soul Movers? The Professor looks more like he's been moving female flesh on the streets of Harlem. This is the Best Dressed Man in Rock and Roll. On a musical point, it's wonderful to hear him so prominent (and integral) in the mix. If anything his playing seems more suited here than in Birdman, which is a moot point I know but I'm gonna make it regardless.
"Baby I Love You" is a keeper and a more than respectable piece of early Aretha to cover but for mine it's another borrowed and more obscure song, "Dead", where things really get interesting. The band drops anchor on a stinging groove, Newman and Tek in simultaneous eye-lock with their drummer. As they wind the song down to its tense conclusion there's a set of grins wider than the one worn by Donald Trump's offshore accountant at tax time.
Calvin Welch is an American expat - a Michigan homeboy like Tek, no less - who has a musical c.v. longer than a Rolling Stones backstage rider. I first saw him with Mark Sisto's Detroit Actual where spontaneity ruled. Off the back of little in the way of rehearsals, the guy bounced into the venue one night and despite being on only a nodding basis with the players in that band, proceeded to dazzle a small crowd withsome awesome feels. His higher profile credits include Earth, Wind & Fire, The Party Boys (the Joe Walsh line-up), Jacky Orzascky, Marcia Hines, Buddy Guy, Chrstine Anu, Marc Hunter and Kevin Borich.
Tonight, Calvin is the show-stealer. The band slips into "Natural Born Woman" a third of the way through - and Calvin goes to a higher plane. The power in his wrists is mind-blowing and the accents have him physically lifting off his drum stool to the point where he seems to be playing his kit with his whole body. The crowd is ecstatic and one audience member (hi Frank!) is moved to leap to his feet and exhort them to even more generous applause. Lizzie declares the Soul Movers are spoilt and won't play with another drummer. We believe it.
A Mack-Tek duet on the Stones-via-Willie Dixon's "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" is playful as all get-out and is a well-placed rocker leading into "Hold Me" and the steamy "Low 'n' Slow", the latter embellished with some superb Hoyle touches.
Deniz's "Mona/Who Do You Love" centre-mic medley spot sounds primal compared to surrounding tunes like the single "Piece O'Me" and "Few Good Reasons". He's restraining his usual volume in a big way and there's a scorching solo in a place I can't recall that strips paint from the newly re-touched venue walls and sounds like something Robert Quine would have liked to have owned. Of course some lost soul calls out for a Birdman song but you know there's one in every crowd, dontcha?
Miss Mack resists but inevitably succumbs to band intentions not to let "Heatwave" slip off the set list. Good thing too, because it was a goodie. There's a newie called "Hey Baby" in there towards the end as well that sounds like it needs to be recorded.
It's a non sequitir to say that this style of material has a potentially huge live audience, if outside the traditional rock and roll rat-holes and hide-outs most of us know best. It's a shame that two Melbourne gigs were blown-out due to a local drummer being unavailable, because that's the place where where word about music in Australia spreads the quickest. I'd love to hear the Movers supplemented by horns where appropriate but this brief mini-tour was an effective toe in the water. The good news is that we can expect more Aussie gigs in February 2010 and maybe in Europe after that, if interest permits.