While M83 was bringing "epic" sounds to Crescent Ballroom, a very different kind of epic was going down across town at The Rhythm Room.
The Bo-Keys, seven pieces lead by Scott Bomar and featuring Stax/Hi Records players Archie "Hubby" Turner on keys, Howard Grimes on drums, and Ben Cauley (the only member of the Bar Kays to survive the plane crash that took the lives of his bandmates and Otis Redding) on trumpet and vocals, and Memphis legend Percy Wiggins, brought a distinct brand of funk and soul to the 'Room.
It was all smiles in the audience, too. It's hard to feel down when Cauley is onstage singing "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," his cadence and tone vastly different from Redding's, but in the spirit all the same. The band's instrumental numbers, especially cuts like "Hi Roller" and "Just Chillin'," gave the band a chance to stretch their legs and for Grimes to really get into the groove, dropping heavy on his tightly wound snare.
Things really took a turn when Percy Wiggins took the stage. Dressed in a brown suit, the "Northern Soul Floorshaker" brought the house down with renditions of "Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place)" and "Never Found a Girl."
"Any one celebrating a birthday? An anniversary? A divorce?" he asked. "We celebrate those, too."
His classic slow jam, "Book of Memories," released in 1967 on Atco Records, brought the house down, shifting from the dynamic bandleader of the former tunes into a broken-hearted balladeer.
The band cruised back into high gear with a take on the soul standard "Knock on Wood."
"If you're feeling alright, say 'yeah,'" Wiggins commanded, and the crowd dutifully complied. "If you're feeling real good say 'hell yeah!'"
The band closed out their first set of the even with "Got to Get Back," the title track from the group's latest LP. "They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder," Wiggins joked. "But I was told that absence makes the heart go yonder!"
The vintage Memphis cadence of the tune is so classic, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a lost platter from the late sixties featuring the Hi Rhythm Section like many of the groups' songs. But it's a new cut -- and one that proves that The Bo-Keys don't have to worry about being labeled as "retro soul." This is how they've always done it.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The Bo-Keys at The Rhythm Room.
Better Than: Shaking my tail feather at home.
The Crowd: Mostly the kind of folks who go see original funksters: a smattering of Rhythm Room regulars and a few young bucks.
Personal Bias: I had to cut out after tke 'Keys first set, but I was bummed to do so. I bet things got even looser as the night went on.
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Set List for Set 1:
"Willie Wam" "Hi Roller" "Just Chillin'" "Sundown on Beale" "Dock of the Bay" "Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place)" "Never Found a Girl" "Book of Memories" "Knock on Wood" Got to Get Back"