Tuesday, November 26, 2013
A Working Band - R. Gang
Last Saturday night, I wanted to hear some good live music but I was seized with laziness. I also was feeling cheap - paying the ticket prices at my favorite venues seemed like an extravagance. When this combination of issues arise, I head to Pete Miller's Steakhouse in Evanston. Pete Miller's has live music every night and no cover charge. I like to order one drink to nurse while I sit at the bar and enjoy some tunes.
Pete Miller's booking preference is jazz. I have heard Bobby Broom lay down a smoking guitar set and Chris Forman pumping out awesome soul-jazz B-3 organ from the little stage near the front of the house. This past Saturday, Pete Miller's booked R Gang. I didn't know the group, but figured out their story within 30 seconds of my arrival at the joint. This a Working Band!! Have a look at the shot from the Downer's Grove Rotary Fest at the top of this post. See what I mean?
What are the characteristics of a Working Band?
(1) They exist to entertain. They try hard to figure out what the audience wants, and they strive to fulfill those wants. They want the people to dance!!
(2) They play lots of covers. R Gang specializes in vintage R&B. They were playing Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, the Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, etc. etc. Folks in the crowd were singing along.
(3) They have more than one singer, and they can handle harmony. R Gang has two male singers - a tenor/falsetto specialist (Rick Owens) and a baritone (Robert Davis). Rick and Robert had the chops and the moves to handle a long list of classic R&B tunes. The keyboard guy (Mike DalValle) sang, too. The voices blended well - these guys have been singing together for quite a while.
(4) The musicianship is stellar. R Gang's guitarist, Will Crosby, is a monster - he played the hell out of every tune. Crosby has a glossy resume, including a stint in the band that backed Mavis Staples on her world tour. The rhythm section was super tight, and nobody played too loud. Pete Miller's is a small room; volume control is critically important.
You might run into R Gang at a suburban roadhouse, a wedding reception or a summer neighborhood festival. It ain't easy to produce this type of music - it takes energy, skill and dedication. I also suspect that the Working Band is an endangered species. DJ's are displacing them. A single DJ is a lot cheaper than a 6-piece band.
So hats off to R Gang and all the other Working Bands out there! Entertainment is an art, too.