Holey Miss Moley, The Juanjamon Band: Simply As Good As It Gets

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Well, what happened was…

I just saw shows by bands on two consecutive nights. Maybe recent memory trumps older memory. Maybe it was my mental state. Maybe it was the five planets visible (OK, six, if you look down). Maybe it was the double chocolate gelato. Maybe it was…

I just saw and heard two of the greatest performances of my life. Seriously. So maybe it was one of those reasons mentioned above. Or maybe they were just that spectacular. They certain hit my standard of “As Good As it Gets.” And the funny thing is, common sense would tell you these shows weren’t going to be special.

So much for common sense.

Friday night at the Dunedin Brewery, Holey Miss Moley was in the house. This nine-piece juggernaut has been killing it back to last year’s Hometeam New Year’s Rally, on to their P-Funk tribute at Little Econ Love Fest, shows all over Florida and Georgia, a great hip-hop set at Great Outdoors Jam, a dynamite throwdown at Roosevelt Collier’s Summer Splashdown, and a monster Thursday gig at the Ringside eight days prior.

They certain had history in their favor, but for this show four of the nine members were at other gigs. Ringleader Christian Ryan was out with Leisure Chief, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris with Come Back Alice, and Mikey Guzman with Evan Taylor Jones. Vernon Suber was also out. They opted to work without keyboards and with one percussionist.

Doesn’t sound promising, does it? I won’t say it was the best Holey Miss Moley show ever, but I will say it was as great as they’ve ever played. Seriously. Let’s examine the why.

Photo by kind permission of Mike Coe

Photo by kind permission of Mike Coe

Donna and I arrived several songs into the first set, and they were knocking out a great “Bermuda Triangle.” Danny Clemmons is a first-class frontman, both in terms of his powerful vocals and also his MC skills. He sang a song I’ve never really paid enough attention to before — Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” — and sent it stratospheric, and that was before it morphed into “No Diggity.”

“The newest member of Holey Miss Moley,” as Clemmons likes to introduce her, is Miss Robyn Alleman, a talented vocalist. She has always been a great addition, but, for the first time, at Summer Splashdown, I heard her truly blossom as a singer. She simply let loose on the band’s Orgōne cover, “Don’t Stop.” At the Ringside, that extended to most of her vocals. At Friday’s Dunedin show, she was shimmering, matching Clemmons’ power with her own. She was magnificent on Syreeta Wright’s “To Know You is to Love You.”

Ultimately, it is all about that bass… and those drums. Kenny Harvey has become an absolute beast on bass, and he was fully on top of his game this night. How do you replace a drummer like ‘datdudeondrums?’ You reach out to Jamal ‘Music City’ Wright (it’s all in the nickname). Wright is a member of Herd of Watts and has also been killing it with S.P.O.R.E. recently. He never missed a beat.

How do you fill Christian Ryan’s shoes? The multi-instrumentalist reed man is so much a part of the band’s sound. Answer: you lure Tom Shea to sit in for the night. Shea plays tenor sax in Ancient Sun, another excellent Orlando group. He and Ryan have locked horns many times.

During “I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You,” Shea showed us exactly why he was the proper choice with a nasty, dirty solo. He got even more wicked when the band romped through “Shake It With Me,” which always leads to a brilliant Afrobeat jam. Shea blew his figurative brains out. After “People Say,” he got another shot during “Brickhouse,” a great new cover for Holey Miss Moley.

The first set closed with a roaring version of “Heart of Steel,” Clemmons pouring himself out into the song.

Photo by kind permission of Dan Farkas

Photo by kind permission of Dan Farkas

I know I try to pay attention, but it seemed to me that guitarist Jacob Cox had mainly been playing his solid-body electric guitar. In the 30 or so times I’ve seen him, he has always been superb. Last week at the Ringside, however, he grabbed a hollow-body for the last set, and I said I’d never heard him play better. Until Friday.

Cox understood that, with no keyboard player and a fill-in sax player (and no disrespect to Shea, who killed it start to finish), he needed to step up to make the set happen. And he did. Gloriously. I sure hope somebody was recording something. He had great solos on “Freaky” and… every tune in the first set. He was back to the solid-body.

My favorite new composition from the band is “Afroshaft,” and this version was simply ridiculous. Shea again stepped up, and Tony Morales, having a great night on percussion, shared his toys with Dave Gerulat (shoeless soul). As it that wasn’t enough, Clemmons reminded everyone of the big show August 27 at Skipper’s Smokehouse, when Holey Miss Moley will reprise their P-Funk tribute (along with Joose covering Herbie Hancock’s Thrust and Christian Ryan’s tribute to Frank Zappa).

Out came my favorite Funkadelic song, “Standing On the Verge of Getting It On.” Incredible. Bam Forza came up to sing with Clemmons and Alleman. Several songs later, out rolled an enormous take on the band original “Devil Funk.” The jam that ensued was mind-blowing, with Shea, Cox and Harvey all soloing. Alleman soared on “Don’t Stop,” and after “Big Bad Wolf” they shut down set two with “Superstition.” Face melted.

During set three, Cox dug way deep for a great solo on “Ain’t No Use.” Jon Ditty Didier came up to rap, with Shea honking on tenor. After “ATLiens,” it was time for more P-Funk with the joyous “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” and “Red Hot Mama,” Alleman’s voice intertwining with Clemmons’, with her feature “Boogie Oogie Oogie” sandwiched in between.

We split as Michael ‘Thunderfoot’ Garrie sat in on drums for “Sho’ Nuff.” (Do all drummers have nicknames?) The set extended several more tunes, I’m told. Did I mention Chris Fama nailed the sound?

So that was Friday. As good as it gets. What was up with Saturday?

Photo by kind permission of Danielle Nicole Gregory

Photo by kind permission of Danielle Nicole Gregory

The Juanjamon Band was playing 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg. 3 Daughters is a huge warehouse brewery/ adult game room with games of all kinds, including enormous Jenga blocks and Score Four. Normally, music is not a priority for many there, although it is certainly a nice diversion. We arrived in time for the last long Latin tune of the first set, and people were listening, because the quintet sounded great, probably as good as any band I’ve heard there sonically. And Juanjamon looked incredibly dapper with his Fedora.

During the break, I was trying to determine how Juanjamon would approach the second set given the number of children running around and such. Fortunately, that was never a factor in his planning!

They opened with an amped-up take on Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved?” It was great, and then it spilled out into an over-the-top awesome jam that just kept rolling. Trevor McDannel and the aforementioned Michael ‘Thunderfoot’ Garrie bear much of the responsibility for the brilliance of this set, propelling everything on bass and drums.

“Knockin’ Boots?” Absolutely. This version was just killer, with Juanjamon taking a wild EWI solo. And — naturally — “Knockin’ Boots” led straight into “(She’s Got a Real Nice) Booty.” And the dance floor was… FULL!

Photo by kind permission of Anna Giancola

Photo by kind permission of Anna Giancola

I didn’t take notes about solos, but Matt Giancola was playing a world of jazz in addition to all of his slinky jamtronic stuff, and Juanjamon sang and played tenor, EWI and keyboard. And Dre Mack. Dre Mack. Dre Mack. Guitarists blowing it UP two nights in a row! Mack was on another planet.

After “New Orleans” and “Shake Your Tambourine,” two remarkable things happened. A friend of Juanjamon’s was there celebrating a birthday, so out popped… a brand new, entirely different, wonderfully brilliant song called “It’s Your Birthday.” I understand that Al Morgan of Buffalo Strange wrote the lyrics; not sure about the melody, which was killer.) Now I know we’ve all heard that other one too many times, but this was truly amazing: a jamband-style birthday song.

And it lasted several minutes, which was great. Recognizing the 11 o’clock hour approaching, Juanjamon announced that this would be their last tune, as Giancola dug into the first glorious chords of “Rosie” (String Cheese Incident). The jam blew wide open, and toward the end “Night of the Thumpasous Peoples (May We Funk You)” emerged.

Oh em gee. It was, again, magnificent, as good as it gets.

That’s my story, and I’ll stick with it. Nowhere on the planet I would rather have been.

juan anna 2

Photo by kind permission of Anna Giancola


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