Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Show Review: Soul Music @ McCarren Park Pool

On Sunday, August 20th, Brooklyn's fun-loving, sun-loving, soul-shaking populace headed down to McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg to enjoy burgers, beers, dodgeball, and most importantly, the sizzling soul music provided by local standouts The Dansettes and The Fabulous Soul Shakers and soul legends The Mighty Hannibal and Archie Bell.
The Dansettes got the show off on the right foot with a tight 45 minute set of pop-soul straight from the sixties. The Dansettes feature the vocal talents of not one but three amazing singers- Leah Fishman, Jaime Kozyra, and Jennie Wasserman-and an incredibly accomplished backing band. The Dansette's set allow each of the girls to highlight her particular strengths, with Jaime starting the show off with the heart-tugging plea "No Questions Asked." Like the sirens of yore, Jaime drew the assembled masses up to the stage, where they were treated to Jennie's flirty, bouncy (yet incongruously sinister) romp "Ladykiller," and Leah's signature tune, the simmering "I've Got A Feeling." Even bandleader Jay B. Flatt got into the act, putting his sweet rough voice to good effect on the crowd pleasing "I Say That I Love You." But with the August sun heating things up, The Dansettes were all too soon off the stage. Jaime sent the crowd back to the shaded environs on the edge of the pool with the defiant "Don't You Ever," and the band left the stage to prepare for their biggest challenge yet: backing up soul legends The Mighty Hannibal and Archie Bell.
But before those stalwarts hit the stage, the too cool for school crowd was wined and dined and left behind by Harlem's own doo wop sensations, The Fabulous Soul Shakers. The Soul Shakers one-upped the Dansettes by featuring not three but four tremendous vocalists. The guys whipped the crowd into a frenzy with the old Sharpees song "Do the 45," then continued to stoke the fires by trading off the lead vocals on a number of great soul classics like "Rainbow," "I Want A Love I Can See," and my personal favorite, Smokey Robinson's "Bad Girl." After their set, the crowd was hot, sweaty and hungry for more.
Although the crowd may have been hankering for something cold and icy on such a smoldering day, The Mighty Hannibal made them sweat even more. And it was a good thing. Hannibal looked the part of soul consigliere as he marched out onto the stage in a black suit and hat. The Dansettes and their backing band provided the musical backdrop, digging into Hannibal's feature song "Get In the Groove." Although Hannibal is getting up there in age, his energy and verve are unmatched. He danced, swaggered, and jived his way through upbeat numbers like "Get In The Groove" and "Good Time," then slowed things down to a agonizingly sweet crawl in numbers like "I Just Want Some Love," and "Baby Please Change Your Mind." All the while, the Dansettes provided an angelic counterpoint to Hannibal's gravelly infernal growl. In the middle of the set, Hannibal took a moment to dedicate his stirring "Hymn No. 5" to the soldiers serving in Iraq. The song was originally written during the Vietnam War and beat the hippies to the punch when it came to war protest songs. Forty years later, it's still relevant. Hannibal's set moved the crowd like mercury in a thermometer as he danced off the stage to the sounds of "Fishing Pole." The Dansettes and the boys of the band, Jay, Dennis, Andy, and Tom, had passed their first musical test with flying colors. They gave Hannibal exactly what he wanted, a soundtrack that alternated between raucous and poingant, grievous and triumphant. Now, they left the stage to ready themselves for the smooth grooves of Archie Bell.
Archie Bell knows how to work a crowd. He strutted out onto the stage, his matching red shirt and pants signaling the coming inferno. His first two numbers, "Let's Groove," and "I Can't Stop Dancing," set the tone. Bell was working hard on stage and he expected the crowd to do the same. As the band settled into a wah-wah guitar/disco drum rhythm, Bell bounced around the stage, exhorting the crowd and the band to make him sweat. At one point, Archie noted that he didn't need the Drells when he had the Dansettes in the house. Archie and the band then worked their way through a number of Bell originals as well as such soul classics as "Stand By Me." Still, as the set progressed, everyone was waiting for one thing: Bell's number one single, "The Tighten Up." A true maestro, Bell saved the best for last, first hitting the crowd with "Knock on Wood." The band turned in a spot on performance of Eddie Floyd's classic, so much so that Archie himself said that they sounded just like "Stax." While the crowd was still reeling from that performance, Archie finally got everyone to tighten up. If you read our previous blog posting about the Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis, you'll know that the band had something to prove. At that fest, Bell couldn't even get his band to tighten up, as they obviously didn't even know the intricacies of the song. Not here, though. One by one, Bell got the musicians to tighten up, and Andy, Tom, Den, and Jay hit all the right notes (but not beats: for some reason Andy did not play the correct drum break; maybe he didn't listen to the original recording). After leading the crowd through numerous tighten ups, Bell finally marched off and the massive crowd wilted. It was a long day in the hot sun, but it was the great music by the Dansettes, the Fabulous Soul Shakers, The Mighty Hannibal, and Archie Bell that sent everyone home with heatstroke.

photos courtesy of g. wong (www.thewongway.org)

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