Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Iridium, New York, NY

January 6, 2017

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I lived in Eugene Oregon on and off throughout the 1990s.  I was into the Dead and Phish and driving down to the Oakland Coliseum to see shows, and catching jam bands like Nine Days Wonder, the Renegade Saints and everything that the jam friendly northwest had to offer.  This was also a time, though, that the indie rock and alternative scenes were exploding, the times of Nirvana and Soundgarden and Peal Jam and the Melvins and a million other bands popping out of that scene.

And after a while that scene began to metamorphose and a legitimate sub genre of swing music developed, sometimes purely updated swing, and sometimes a mix of swing and ska or punk as in Eugene’s own Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.  They were a controversial band for sure, their risque attitudes and punk personas at times at odds with the free love spirit of post bohemian Eugene.

So it is a bit of a curiosity that in my time in Eugene, nearly a decade, and despite knowing some of those guys and their crew, I had never actually seen them play.  So while wandering the wonder of the APAP conference in NYC I was delighted to find out that they were performing at the historic Iridium in midtown.

I walked in and got one of the last seats in the house and just a few minutes later the band started.  They came out nattily dressed in suits and fired immediately into their biggest hit, Zoot Suit Riot.  Lead singer  Steve Perry stood out from the rest of the band in a velvet jacket and bow tie- replete with wallet chain and hat looking equally ready for a dinner meeting and a post show brawl in the alley.  They lithely marched through the entirety of the Zoot Suit Riot album from start to finish with Perry saying that the anniversary inspired them to revisit the album both in the mixing studio and on stage.  From Mr White Keys to Shake Your Love Maker they were easily able to recreate their signature sound that saw them journey from the Pacific Northwest to every corner of the globe in their heyday.

Perry, bassist Dan Schmid and trumpeter and horn arranger Dana Heitman are the only original members.  The rest of the crew has a variety of years with the band under their belts and all were able to bring the correct sound to the band.  Perry’s voice is in perfect condition, pristine even.  He not only hit every note, but seemed to bring a greater level of experience in jazz, show tunes, crooning and finer singing to the task.  Schmid also was a standout at times driving the rhythm section in a deep and essential way.  Heitman ruled the roost in the horn section which in addition to his trumpet playing had two saxophones who took turns shining in their solo sections.

After the perfect reproduction of the 14 songs on on Riot,  the band showcased what else they have been doing in the two decades since its release and where they may be going in the future.   They spent the next 45 minutes or so ranging through a variety of jazz, broadway, American heritage tunes, all in their unique styles.  Let’s Misbehave, Forty Second StreetTrickeration, The Jitterbug-  all were prime examples of the band understanding the source material from which they had created their band.  Have they mellowed with age?  Sure.  Have they looked deep within themselves  and their sources to find a maturity and more interesting material to showcase for their audience- definitely.

They left stage and came back for a two song encore that was an embrace of the crowd and showcased not only their talents but their appreciation for their longevity.  The crowd was very appreciative and stood in line for quite a while to buy vinyl and get signatures.  Perry was good to the promise that he had made during the show, that he would stand in front of the door and prevent folks from leaving until they shook a hand and bought some merch and took some selfies.

Easily my favorite part of the show was afterward when I called over to Dan Schmid.  We had met a few times in Eugene at various bars and brewpubs but we were not friends.  But I introduced myself and we talked for a good twenty minutes about our mutual friends and acquaintances of which we had many.  I mentioned the band that I handled twenty five years ago, International Anthem who were the first band with whom I worked, and Dan to my great surprise remembered them, remembered playing with them in Astoria OR, and corrected me even on the name of the show (Mayor’s Ball, not Governor’s Ball..)  We chatted about Eugene’s I-Chele, the McConnell Brothers, the W.O.W. Hall, studios, the defunct Eugene Celebration and the ever lasting Saturday Market.  I was with my friend with whom I had lived in Eugene, and it was really a trip to be hanging in one of the most historic jazz and blues clubs in the world, in the biggest city in America, talking about Eugene Oregon with one of the guys who put the music scene there on the international map.

If you are a fan of the alternative – swing bands, or a fan of the Daddies themselves- do not hesitate to go see them.  The band is tight, fun, on point and still has some of the piss and vinegar that made them stand out over twenty years ago. Shake Your Love Maker…  indeed.

I also want to thank the folks at Monterey for letting me into their showcase; it was very kind.

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