Five Bands You Should Check Out at Tropical Heatwave Saturday

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This Saturday’s Tropical Heatwave, the 35th annual hosted by WMNF 88.5 Community Conscious Radio, features more than 50 on ten stages across Ybor City, with music from 5 PM to 2 AM. We’re disappointed to inform you that you simply won’t be able to hear them all (perhaps you guessed that already).

While you are contemplating your path to nirvana Saturday with the help of the schedule, we would like to suggest five bands you ought to check out, three at The Ritz Ybor and two at Tequila’s.

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UNRB (The Ritz Ybor 5:40 – 6:40)

We first ran across UNRB when they opened for March Fourth! at the WMNF show in September. Here is what we said about the St. Petersburg band then:

Next up were actual humans from St. Petersburg, UNRB. In retrospect, this was absolutely the best band to fit in between the aliens. Their brand of ska-fusion was magnificent. This isn’t always my favorite musical style, but the septet was so completely engaging, joyous and excellent. It never hurts to have a four-horn front, with trumpet (Ben Datin), trombone (Andy Pilcher), tenor sax (Dan Smith) and bari (Matt Weihmuller).

If you were looking for the surprise element, it would have to be lead singer Noel Rochford, who straps on an electric ukulele instead of a guitar and makes it work! Best dancer/jumper award goes to bassist Nic Giordano, joined by rhythm section bandmate  Eric Allaire on drums. They flat-out crushed this set.

“Collateral Jammage” was superb, and then Rockford brought out his mom(!) to sing. It was awesome. They absolutely nailed the ska, but they had so many other directions. The band got very funky at times, and they threw down a nasty “House on 9th Street” (starting with the “House of the Rising Sun” vamp) talking about a place in Tarpon Springs. I know I won’t “studiously avoid” them anymore!

Trae Pierce & the T-Stone Band (The Ritz Ybor 7:00 – 8:00)

Trae Pierce and his band of merry pranksters blew it up last year at Heatwave, again at the Great Outdoors Jam in July, and on April Fool’s Day at WMNF’s Little Manatee Jam Fest. Here was our report on the Central Florida funk juggernaut at the Jam Fest:

That left it to Trae Pierce and the T-Stone Band to close out the night. That would be an understatement. Pierce and company had played last year’s WMNF Heatwave and the Great Outdoors Jam, so at least some of us were prepared for the onslaught about to happen. Pierce and T-Stone are the very embodiment of the Funkadelic song “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!”

After a brief intro, they blasted into “T-Stone is Here.” Pierce was killing on lead bass guitar, and Adam James was shredding on guitar. A huge medley ensued, with “Come Together > Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) > No Diggity > bass battle > Rock and Roll, Pt. 2 > Run Through the Jungle.” Seriously. The bass battle was superb; Charron Freeman went toe to toe with Pierce. A nifty drum solo ended with Gordon “G” Rodgers coming stage front after playing the side of his kit, then playing the stage, joined by vocalist Rae Pierce and Freeman, both with drumsticks.

“Crash the Party” was driven by an incredible bass line from Freeman that led into a wicked “Enter Sandman!” James was incendiary, and that led to “I Got the Power > Killing In the Name > Whole Lotta Love,” during which James crowd-surfed, not missing a note. Who says a funk band can’t play rock?

The next portion was straight-up funk, and then rock, and then, well: “Fire > Sex Machine > Give Up the Funk > Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye > Lose Yourself > We Will Rock You > Auld Lang Syne > Star-Spangled Banner.”

You need some Trae Pierce in your life.

The Mantras (The Ritz Ybor 9:55 – 11:10)

We have been fortunate to catch The Mantras (Greensboro NC) several times, but their appearance at Hometeam New Year’s Rally melted our faces into little puddles. From the puddle, we said:

Then things got really stupid. The Mantras came to spread their Southern-fried North Carolina sauce over everything. It began with a Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish rockin’ boogie, but that immediately shifted into some deep prog that was mind-blowing. Bassist Brian Tyndall was THE MAN. The entire set was positively riveting, and then they got to a mash-up that began with “Burnin’ Down the House” and wove in and out of “Fire On the Mountain.” DAMN. So of course a “Linus and Lucy” tease would end up being “Cat Scratch Fever.”

Acme Jazz Garage (Tequila’s 10:20 – 11:20)

Acme Jazz Garage is an excellent jazz quartet from Tampa. We reviewed their excellent new eponymous album (read it here). We’ve seen them in several settings last June:

At Timpano’s as a straight-ahead quartet:

When I arrived, the band had just worked their way into Miles’ “All Blues.” It was a beautiful reading, honoring the tradition of jazz bands to give every player a moment or three. Matt Swenson led off on guitar. His hollow-body electric has that magnificent sound, reminding me first of Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery as well. Swenson borrows from the best, but this set and the next showed great inventiveness.

Bryan Lewis had a nice walk on the baby grand piano. In the past, I’ve always seen him on his bank of keyboards playing with Serotonic. It was deluxe seeming him make the wonderful percussiveness of the piano speak the tune. A guest player (Andrew) was sitting in for a couple of songs on bass, and he was excellent. He claimed later to be rusty, but I enjoyed his work for certain.

At The Independent:

If your group plans to attempt the Crusaders’ “Put It Where You Want It,” the guitar player had better nail his part. Matt Swenson was all over it, as I grinned ear to ear. Guest Rick Runion had fun with this one, too. I was sitting on the bench right next to Bryan Lewis, keyboard player for Serotonic and AJG. On Thursday, he had a baby grand to work with. For this funky workout, Lewis had a keyboard that worked as electric piano and organ equally well, and it was a blast watching him play.

AJG is working on recording songs for a new CD, and next we heard two of bassist Philip Booth’s compositions. “Mr. G.P.” was written in honor of Mr. George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass. The title harkens back to Coltrane’s tune for his bassist, Paul Chambers, the classic “Mr. P.C.” It was Meters-inspired, and Booth stepped out nicely.

Booth’s second song was “Zag.” Jordan Garno, guitar player for Serotonic, was there and said how much he like drummer Tim Diehl’s approach. Diehl then proceeded to swing his ass off, followed by a great solo from Lewis, Booth’s walking bass and another great effort from Runion. The group then slowed everything down with a superb reading of Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments.” Swenson and Lewis did the original with Grant Green and Pearson proud; this was beautiful.

Lewis had “Fungi” written on his setlist. So I had to ask: would that be “Fungii Mama” by Tom Browne? Hell, yeah! Then Booth reminded me that Browne covered it, but Blue Mitchell wrote it and recorded it back in his Blue Note days, with Chick Corea! I love music history! And the set closed with Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” the Headhunters version, not the original! Lewis blew this one up first on the electric piano, and Swenson and Runion piled on.

The second set yielded another Booth original, “Rubberman,” that really jammed. Everybody got in his licks on this one. An outrageously funky “Footprints,” the Wayne Shorter tune, came spilling out next. I scribbled, “WOW!” And I was right. WOW.

Flat Land (Tequila’s 11:40 – 12:40)

This amazing Gainesville quintet first knocked us out at last year’s Gov-Fest, and every time since they have continued to raise the bar. They recently graced the main stage at the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. You can read the feature we ran on them a year ago. Here is what we wrote about their performance at Little Econ Love Fest in February:

So the 11 AM to 6 PM sets were wonderful, and the lineup the rest of the night promised to be legendary. It began with Flat Land, the Gainesville quintet who were just confirmed to play the main stage at noon Sunday at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival in March!

Fae Nae (Fae Nageon de Lestang) is positively captivating on vocals and violin. Her vocal style in particular draws you in and doesn’t let go. She and Chris Storey (guitar) match up so well, and Brandon Miller and Grant McLeod drive the music with bass and drums, with Ian McLeod adding to the sound with percussion. (For a man who was too sick to make it Thursday night, it was great to see Ian rally Saturday; they couldn’t keep him off the stage!)

After a superb set, they discovered they had more time. Pat and I looked at each other. “I’m calling ‘Ruffio’s,’” I said. Pat was hoping for their Led Zep cover. So they played “Ruffio’s Last Stand,” gloriously, and, finding they had still more time, launched into “Black Dog.” Pat and I were ecstatic. And that blew up when Tony Tyler, who had just covered Song Remains the Same with Come Back Alice at Hometeam New Year’s Rally, jumped on stage to share the vocals.

So that covers just five of the 50 amazing bands and performances from which to choose Saturday. Choose wisely, Grasshopper!


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