The California Honeydrops, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR- 3/31
Photo by Brian Spady
With a brand new CD called Like You Mean It on the merch table and dates with Fruition, The Brothers Comatose and Sam Bush in their wake, The California Honeydrops dropped in on Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge with an Easter evening set of their New Orleans-inspired rock, rhythm and roll.
As they did at their Fillmore show with Bush, the H-Drops warmed up the intimate crowd of a hundred or so Portlandians with something a bit on the mellow side. Singer, guitarist and trumpeter Lech Wierzynski channeled Boz Scaggs with the gospel opener, “Up Above My Head,” before rolling into a slightly funky version of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”
After kicking out a sweet little instrumental boogaloo called “Bring It Up,” the band offered up their new material in earnest. Touring keyboardist Charlie Hickox immediately proved himself as a complete badass, tearing open an amazing solo on the woozy New Orleans shuffle “Here Comes Love.” Saxophonist Johnny Bones represented on “Just Because,” a melding of Dixieland two-step, Chicago gospel and Brunswick soul (kind of like Louis Armstrong gone Jackie Wilson).
Three medleys were sprinkled though out the proceedings: their Soul Tub Medley started as a reference to The Stones’ “Miss You” while their Zydeco Medley took classic cuts like “My Blue Heaven,” “Swanee River Rock” and “Higher And Higher” and cuisinarted them into a jam band fiasco. In between, the band raced through a four song Second Line Medley that featured a march through the venue (and some rolling about the floor). After hearkening back their their roots — with Wierzynski and drummer Ben Malament dueting on beat up guitar and washboard — on “Pumpkin Pie,” the band tore into a great version of Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk.”
The only downside to the 120-minute affair was the lack of more places for Hickox to shine and the seeming lack of concern for their presentation. While Wierzynski and super-fro’d touring bassist Lorenzo Loera looked pretty snazzy, the rest of the crew look like they’d just punched out from their job at Guitar Center. Video from their Fillmore gig proves they can clean up a bit better; it would’ve been nice to see them present a little for Portland
That said, The California Honeydrops have been been given props via a slew of blues, R&B and soul awards over the past few years and deservedly so: Wierzynski is soulful and charismatic, Bones blows like a hurricane, Malament makes more noise with two drums than most do with twenty and Loera is as solid as a rock on the bottom end. It’s old time rock and roll, Chicago soul and New Orleans rhythms all blended together for party people of today.