Pretty pleasing, with Sugar Ray on top


photo courtesy of Vimeo

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, rocking out during a recent performance

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones played Dibden on March 23, and if a harmonica was a flamethrower, they would’ve set the house on fire.

The first sign of greatness was their opening act, three smoked-out-looking dudes calling themselves the Eames Brothers. There’s Ian and Ralph, the Eames brothers, on lead guitar and bass respectively, and Gabe Jarrett playing the drums.

They played with all the soul of the lead act, minus the flaming harmonica: if Sugar Ray’s act was a burst of flames, the Eames Brothers liked to keep their blue flames at a low, simmering heat.

There was a southern quality about them, not least because they played down-south bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, songs with titles like “Worry Blues” and “Waitin’ by the Roadside,” or because they played with the polite organization and easy earnestness of stereotypical old-timey blues artists.

Their rhythm was off when they opened, despite the lovely job each was individually doing with his instrument. I got the impression they’re a relatively new band. But they found their rhythm by the end of their first song, and by the time they’d played a trio, they gave the impression of imported professionals–as truly good stage musicians seem to do.

“Here’s another song about roads,” Ian cooed, a slight grit to his voice, the word “roads” stretched as long as the backroads I imagined these boys taking to get here.

“There seem to be a lot of them around here,” he added.

This preceded a song with these opening lyrics: “I broke my heart,” slinking, swaying guitar, “… when I broke your heart.”

There’s little so magical as those experiences when art catches up to the precise emotional-spiritual plane on which is present.

Here’s an example: I sat in Dibden, waiting for the show to start, haunted by a heart I’d recently broken and realizing the depth to which that heart-breakage had, in turn, broken my own heart.

Twenty minutes later these CCR-lookin’ seeming-professionals are rocking that very same emotional state–and if it didn’t immediately get me over the situation, it certainly healed me forward.

And these guys were the friggin’ opening act.

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones were introduced by their pianist, Anthony Geraci, who said he’d taught for 12 years at JSC and loved it. It was like telling a virgin that orgasms wouldn’t be so bad–unnecessary buttering for an emotionally explosive experience.

Sugar Ray’s gang are walking white blues stereotypes: the broad-shouldered, ponytailed pianist; the thin, livewire drummer; the tall, prim bassist; the cool cat black-shirt-and-pimp-hat lead–all except the guitarist, a round punk with devilish facial hair and a way with a guitar I chalk up to an overflow of youthful zeal.

The older individuals in the audience, who made up about three-fifths of those in attendance, seemed to come prepared–but the young ‘uns, those JSC students who came to see Creative Audience rather than Sugar Ray, they got sucked in. Three songs in almost every head in the audience was bopping. Even the kids were cheering.

The band’s blues thumped, burst, stomped, swayed, lunged and heaved. Blues came through Sugar Ray like God through a preacher. The guy’s a consummate professional: he talks like a Vegas showman, and I’ve never seen anyone put so much weight behind a harmonica.

The band blasted through an original rock number, reminding me of Neil Young’s promise: “Rock ‘n’ roll will never die.” And I thought, “Nor blues”–not when this sound has this effect… nor jazz, nor hip hop, yadda beautiful loud yadda.