Your hosts for Hometeam New Year’s Rally, Cody and Jenelle Bean and their prize staff, wanted to get things warmed up for the Rally which takes place December 29-31 at Maddox Ranch in Lakeland, Florida. There is a pre-party on December 28th, so Beans et al. held a pre-pre-party at Skipper’s Smokehouse on Saturday, December 9th.
Even as the temperatures dipped into the upper 40s (very atypical this year), the music started out scorching hot and never came off the burner. Four outstanding bands, two superb artists at large, and a handful of all-star jams filled the Skipperdome for seven fabulous hours.
The Reality popped up in my radar almost two years at Zenfest (in Plant City, NOT Zen Awakening). Since then, I’ve witnessed these young gents from Tampa kick out the jams more than 20 times. This quartet is pure fun: funk, rock, mania, and lots more funk. And this might be — wait for it — as good a set as I’ve ever heard them play.
They got the early arrivals dancing early with “Scooch On Over” and more tunes from new album Car Trouble and their previous release as well. Dan Jones is thoroughly engaging as front man, playing guitar and trombone and singing. Caleb Bone, a monster on bass, has an incredible voice, as we heard on the backing vocals to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Can’t Stop.”
After several of the band’s best tunes, including “All My Time” and “Sweet Tooth, The Reality launched into a delightful mashup of “Uptown Funk” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” And they closed the first segment of this dance party with their great showcase “Dancin’ in D.”
At Great Outdoors Jam in September, fest king Kenny Blair opted to give a band that had been on a long hiatus a headlining slot. His prescient scheduling was brilliant, as Between Bluffs (from Dunedin) played a magnificent set, much of it from a new album the band is working on.
They presented much of that along with selections from older albums at Skipper’s in another superb set. They opened with “A New Day,” attack from debut album Mountain Nearing (2010). Then came a great sequence from in-the-works Type 1 Civilization, “Big Bang > Storm of Jupiter.” It was a total rocker with Mel Walsh ripping it up on guitar. This may have been my favorite performance of his (which was then superseded by the Row Jomah Toy Drive show). He just flat-out KICKED ASS.
After “Out of My Mind,” out rolled some trip, spacey double bass from Justin Davis on another tune from the new project, “Lunar-C.” “This song’s lyrics are derivative of Kennedy’s speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, where he asked for more money for the space program,” as Jerrod Simpson explained later.
“Gadget” featured bowed bass from Davis and a fine intro from Walsh. Right before the encore, Between Bluffs offered a killer prog rock take on Tool’s “Opiate,” which vocalist Simpson reminds us is about religious leaders raping people. And they closed with “Florida Song,” with Simpson on guitar solo and then Simpson and Walsh on twin lead guitar.
Two bands, two best-ever performances.
Then it was Ajeva’s turn. The Gulfport quintet too had been under cover for a bit, and it was great to have them back. “Space Ducks” was a great place to start, a killer version with Reed Skahill’s dynamite vocals. Mark Mayea took a great electric piano solo on “7:45,” followed by some great Hammond B3 work. Mayea on piano and Skyler Golden on guitar blew up “Metaphysics.”
Then Skahill and Mayea swapped instruments as Mayea played guitar (another surprise!) on funky “No Holding Back.” He and Golden traded solos, and Skahill offered one on synthesizers. A huge funk jam ensued, beginning with “Something Else” before segueing into a “Clown/Funky Situation” mashup: “A clown has the nuclear codes.” Eventually, it moved into “Funk is Back” and a great bass solo from Taylor Gilchrist.
Artist-at-large Matt Weis stepped up As “Greasy” became “Waves” and tore it up on guitar. [HOLD THIS SPACE] The set closed with Golden strapping on a double-neck guitar for “Try Not To.” Encore “Funky Green Men from Mars” featured a great rap from Travis “Too Tall” Young.
About HOLD THAT SPACE. I’ve seen artist-at-large Kaleigh Baker a half dozen times; clearly, I was not paying enough attention. Because the pinnacle, the peak of the evening occurred when Baker stepped on stage with Ajeva and reached — and surpassed — superstar range. They played “Feelin’ Good” (from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd). The band rendered a beautiful version, but Baker brought tears to my eyes. Honestly, it reminded me of seeing Grace Slick with Jefferson Starship. WOW!
Orlando’s The Groove Orient had the final slot before the all-star jams commenced. The band was stripped down to a quartet (no David Vanegas this night). Bassist Harry Ong took first vocal turn on “Bananas,” followed by Chuck Magid (guitar) singing “Bora Bora.” Then they unveiled a new tune, “Midnight.” Tommy Shugart’s Hammond B3 danced underneath Ong’s vocal.
Kaleigh Baker has performed often with The Groove Orient, so it was great to see them work together again. They started the collaboration with “Hot Bandit Woman,” one of The Groove Orient’s signature tunes. Baker, Magid and Ong intertwined their voices. Baker solidified her reputation as a great blues belter on “Feels Like Midnight” and “What Would Tom Waits Do,” the latter tune with a great country rock lilt.
“Cannonball” was a great instrumental rocker with magic soloing on guitar, then Tommy Shugart on B3 and electric piano. Baker returned for “Turtle Blues,” the Janis Joplin tune, and then a signature of Baker’s, “There’s a Fork in the Road.” The boys continued with Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” featuring Shugart and Magid on twin guitars, and a tremendous encore with Matt Weis on guitar and vocal.
Then the jams began. Weis led the collective into “Tweezer” (he plays in the Phish tribute band Antelope), with Golden, Ong, Shugart, Mayea and Young. It had a hip-hoppy bounce and rap lyrics from Weis. Golden served up a righteous guitar solo.
Jam Two had Reed Skahill singing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Mayea, Shugart, Magid, Young, Golden, and Gilchrist. Shugart had a superb B3 solo.
The third jam was John Scofield’s “Chank.” This one featured Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris, Magid, Golden, Gilchrist, and Bucky Buckingham (drummer for The Groove Orient) played keyboards! Shugart picked up his guitar and blew it up.
By now it was funky, funky, funky, so the finale was, logically, “Hang Up Your Hangups.” Morris, Ong, Mayea, Buckingham and Gilchrist were on stage. With time running out, Mel Walsh of Between Bluffs and Isaac Corbitt joined the jam, bringing the night to a sensational conclusion.
For future reference, this note. There were four bands on the bill. The Reality had to leave for another gig, but Walsh and Simpson from Between Bluffs were still there. The jams should have incorporated them for more than five minutes.
Also, this. When Kaleigh Baker was performing with The Groove Orient, she shouted out great praise for sound engineer Jim Hurst. She was 100% accurate. Hurst is the best FOH sound man at Skipper’s Smokehouse since Josh was there. He was brilliant the entire evening (and at The Fritz show the next week). Let’s hope he stays for a long time!
See you at Hometeam!
[THE REALITY: Scooch On Over, Can’t Stop, All My Time, Goddess, Pineapple Salsa, Sweet Tooth, Uptown Funk/Somebody’s Watching Me, Get Funky, Wait for the Moment, Dancin’ in D]
[BETWEEN BLUFFS: A New Day, Big Bang > Storm of Jupiter, Out of My Mind, Lunar-C, Gadget, Opiate; E: Florida Song]
[AJEVA: Space Ducks, 7:45, Metaphyics, No Holding Back, Something Else > Clown > Funky Situation > Clown > Funk is Back, Greasy > Waves (Weis), (Baker) Feelin’ Good, Try Not To; E: Funky Green Men from Mars]
[THE GROOVE ORIENT: Bananas, Bora Bora, Midnight, Hot Bandit Woman*, Feels Like Midnight*, What Would Tom Waits Do*, Cannonball, Turtle Blues*, There’s a Fork in the Road*, The Trooper; E: ?]
[ALL-STARS: Tweezer, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Chank; E: Hang Up Your Hang-ups]
All photos courtesy of our man Matt Hillman!