By Lisa Weeks
IT'S TUESDAY NIGHT at the Shelter Lounge and the crowd is growing as the Kings of Pleasure set up for their regular Tuesday appearance. The entrance is narrow and curved, spiraling in towards the semi-circular bar. There's no stage, so all five members of the band, as well as all their equipment, have to fit in the small nether region between the exit and the barroom itself. The decor is a collage of memorabilia from decades long since past, posters of J.F.K., oodles of '60s kitsch, pink flamingos and velvet paintings of conquistadors. It's hard to tell if it's the predominately red lighting or the close atmosphere, but everyone looks just a little more intriguing than they did in the parking lot. The crowd is a mix of older couples in dinner attire, twenty-somethings out to shoot some stick and watch the band, and groups of college students blowing off homework and hoping to get lucky. It's all just the regular hustle and bustle until the Kings of Pleasure swing into action.
The band and the music transform the atmosphere, drowning out the idle chatter, drawing in and unifying the attention of the crowd. As jump blues gives way to rhythm and blues, then to swing and on to mambo a la Perez Prado, each instrument, each player gets his turn in the spotlight. The round, muted bluesy guitar is solid and unassuming until it explodes into a dizzying solo. The bass, taught and heavy, resonates with the artful, snazzy percussion. The vocals are strong, clear and smooth, crooning with the memory of what Sinatra was back in his day. The organ impersonates the vibraphones, and each song is punctuated by unbelievable horn solos that carry it all home. The big, full-on frontal sound is so rousing and compelling that everyone in the room is moving in time to the rhythm. As large a group as can fit has gathered in the available floor space to dance. Each song is rendered with such candor the audience is carried back for a time to a simpler, more innocent age.
Younger audiences are becoming increasingly interested in bands of this musical grab-bag genre, and not only as a retro fad. The extraordinary success of performers like Harry Connick, Jr. proves there's mass-market appeal for music within the realm of swing and big band. The Kings of Pleasure are often billed as a swing band, a label that hardly covers what the Kings have to offer.
The band plays a mix of original tunes and covers, interspersed with encouraging and regular taunts at the crowd like, "Let's all get naked and take a shower!" The originals are written so well within the context of a particular genre they're almost indistinguishable from the cover tunes. The highly entertaining live shows consist primarily of covers, which are rendered enthusiastically and affectionately with a crisp energy that denies the band's rigorous schedule. The Kings of Pleasure, in addition to regular Tuesday gigs at the Shelter, play out most nights of the week at clubs around town as well as at private engagements. A busy band that's about to get much busier with the release of their first record.
The Kings of Pleasure formed nearly a year ago under the direction and intentions of band leader Mike Hebert. Something of an all-star outfit, each band member is an accomplished musician with an impressive résumé and enormous talent. Hebert, guitarist and primary songwriter, was a founding member in San Diego's Forbidden Pigs, played guitar for Candye Kane, and served a stint with Phoenix blues band Hoodoo Kings, producing their debut CD last year. Charming, enigmatic Paul Elia balances melody and rhythm, singing as well as playing drums. Charly Wycott keeps the groove moving on standup bass, and has to his credit performances with Lowell Fulsom and Chuck Berry, as well as country stars Tanya Tucker and Janie Fricke. Brenden Kearney, on alto sax, and Terry Peffer, on tenor sax, comprise the horn section, as well as helping out with the keyboards. No one member of the band outshines the others; all effortlessly seem to blend into a sound that's almost too tight to be live, a testament to the high level of professionalism, maturity and musicianship.
Signed to the emerging independent Tucson recording label Trope Records, the Kings of Pleasure have recently completed recording their first CD at Wavelab Studios. The disc, which includes a strong mix of eight originals and four covers, captures the sparkle and zest of the live performance. Commercial release is imminent, with a blowout CD release party scheduled for December 7 at the newly opened and wonderfully appropriate Rialto Cabaret, 201 E. Broadway. Other scheduled release dates include appearances at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix on December 6, the Casbah Club in San Diego on December 13, and the Derby in Hollywood on December 14. Touring plans for the Kings of Pleasure include a series of winter dates across the Southwest, followed by tentative plans for a tour of the Midwest.
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