Photo: Steven Rood
The pot of musical stew served up by the California Honeydrops needed a little time to come to a boil. On the first night of a three-show run down the freeways of Southern California, the Bay-Area ensemble turned up the heat after a relatively enthusiastic, if tempered first set in their return to downtown L.A.’s Teragram Ballroom. Delivering a classic second half led by a whopper of a set-starter, the septet’s infectious house party got and kept the sold-out crowd swaying and steamy.
Ironically, it was “Brokedown Parts 1 and 2” that put all the pieces together, launching after intermission with its familiar refrain of horns led by trumpeter (and guitarist, singer, and party captain) Lech Wierzynski, and augmented by the always stylish and funky Johnny Bones on sax, and new teenaged kid wonder, trombonist Oliver Tuttle. The New Orleans-inspired groove, driven by the flexing pocket drumming of L.A. hometowner Ben Malament, immediately locked the room of bodies into one, and lifted the show to the next plateau. The spirit of the evening would continue to rise and release as it went; Wierzynski belting out the blues or smiling through the studious, yet free-swinging soul and R&B that have become hallmarks of this terrific troupe.
This isn’t to suggest that the first set wasn’t without a charm of its own. Opening on a loping and restrained cover of “Tulsa Time” that cleverly name-checked Hollywood, the seven eased through a nod to their latest album, Soft Spot, as well as dipping all the way back to Wierzynski’s first song “Cry For Me,” that debuted on the Drops first album fifteen years ago. It was an expectedly fun first half, marked by a 20-minute-plus medley that included a lovely vocal turn by keyboardist Lorenzo Loera on The Intruders’ “Cowboys to Girls.”
Yet, like any great party, by the end it was the looser moments later on in the night, in the thick of it- the lasting impact of “Brokedown” and the second-set magic that followed- that became more the memory. The Honeydrops are halfway through a second decade as a band, and their catalog of originals and encyclopedic retention of covers is only getting larger. As Wierzynski found out when he asked the capacity crowd for requests- noting them, yet not actually playing any- the fan base had plenty of favorites on the wish list.
It’s a challenge, even over a three-hour appearance, to find the space for everything, especially given the band’s acumen for improvisation and Wierzynski’s knack for interacting with his audience. This really is a party band for the people; Weirzynski coming out pre-show and during the break to say hello to the front-row. As the Teragram performance proved faithfully once again, the Honeydrops went looking for the high ground, and together with their devoted, they found it.