Photo by Keith Berson
It was shortly after the jumping opener of Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues” when California Honeydrops singer/guitarist/trumpeter/merrymaker Lech Wierzynski told the near-capacity Troubadour of the band’s intention to play for four hours. Call it a dare, or a daring promise. And, if not for the house curfew, the Oakland-based quintet probably would have pulled it off.
That’s the kind of night it was; the burning soul, and soles, of a dance marathon that was this tour date at the renowned West Hollywood club. The Honeydrops will win the war of attrition. There is no doubt. With a repertoire that dips back to the 1940s and grows with originals from the group’s latest, A River’s Invitation, there was no danger of a depletion of material or energy. It didn’t hurt the pursuit of the 4-hour goal line to stretch crowd favorite “When It Was Wrong” to the 20-minute mark, but that was one of only a few extended jams.
Mostly, the tunes were tightly packed together, like a confetti cannon, always bursting with notes from joyful horns and popping percussion, raining down in a Bay Area-Mardi Gras hybrid of sound and style. These five knights of boogie have the wardrobe down, and in Wierzynski’s case, the moves to match. The native of Poland is a marvel, channeling Sam Cooke as he twerks, all with an ironic smile and too much care for the music and its power to be a caricature. He pours out the blues at the bottom of the bottle, invites a guitar player named Captain Jammy out of the audience to take a turn, and even scales barricades separating sections of the balcony without letting his trumpet drop from his lips.
Two hours gone, and the Honeydrops leave the stage, taking their instruments with them. Into the crowd, they paraded; two horns, two marching drummers, and a melodica, circumnavigating the arm-locked couples as they rocked and rolled. They strut their way up into the loft, with Wierzynski, having taken an alternate staircase, separated from the four and on the wrong side of a metal impasse. No worries, he just climbs over, a dozen feet above the floor, and the party rolls on. The dare to go four hours seems smaller by comparison.
There was an expanded “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” and a couple of overtly covert suggestions in “Bubblegum” and “Pumpkin Pie,” with drummer Ben Malament on washboard, but it’s a cover of R. Kelly’s “Bump ‘N Grind” that squeezes the tightest. The late-night slow jam turns singalong, as Wierzynski leaves the chorus to the crowd. It’s not quite four, but just over three hours, as Cooke’s “Having a Party/Good Times” pairing leads to one final funky tribute and the reluctant end to a super-charged show. Really, though, it’s not an end, but a pause until the party known as the California Honeydrops makes it to the next town.