The Heavy Pets, Row Jomah Put Toy Drive in High Gear

For the second time, Clearwater’s Row Jomah invited The Heavy Pets to join them for their annual toy drive at Dunedin Brewery (Saturday, December 8th). Lots of fans, lots of toys, lots of cash donations, and lots of beer went really well together with lots of great music from the two bands.

Row Jomah led off the evening with a great set of songs from their albums plus several great covers. The always spirited quintet really gears up for the toy drive, and we got a great show as a result. And speaking of quintet, the band is currently without a permanent bassist, but three area players have filled in so admirably you’d never know they were “temps.” Kenny Harvey (Holey Miss Moley) and Vinny Svoboda (Displace) often sit in; this night it was an excellent fit with Trevor McDannel from Future Vintage.

Trevor McDannel & Joe Roma

“Funk” is always a fine way to begin, followed by “Back & Forth” from recent album Guns & Gods & Gold. Then “Fire & Ice” segued into some lovely keyboard work from Austin Llewellyn, and that yielded to a cover of the Wilco tune “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” McDannel showed himself on “Choke,” which featured one of many dynamite guitar solos on the night by Mel Walsh.

Mel Walsh

Joe Roma did a marvelous job interpreting Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” to everyone’s delight. Then Roma stepped off to let the band play a recent composition, “Little Plans.” It began as a ballad but then got really, really spacey, with Walsh on slide guitar (that was awesome) and Llewellyn on synths and everything else. Really spacey, in the best possible way.

Joe Roma

The opening notes of “Sledgehammer” got everybody moving, Dylan Chee-A-Tow’s drums pulsing through the song. And there were smiles all around, on stage and off. Next up was the notorious “Cat People,” a song with a lot happening. McDannel got some space, followed by Llewelyn, then there was the “Cantina Band” quote, and finally then turned Chee-A-Tow loose, and he tore it up!

Dylan Chee-A-Tow

Because Walsh is the guitar focal point, it is often easy to overlook the tremendous addition that Roma’s acoustic guitar makes, especially in the introduction to songs such as “Tell Me.” The band has twisted this particular intro into a country romp before it settles back into the song proper. To close the set, Llewellyn played some fabulous electric piano and Walsh shredded on the new tune “Taintasia.” Deserved great applause ensued.

Austin Llewelyn

You know that there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed if you go to see a band hoping to hear your favorite tune. However, if they start with it, you are golden. So thank you music, Heavy Pets, for starting with “Dewpoint.” Also, often at Dunedin Brewery the keyboard player sits on the left side, where I often sit, which is cool, because I can watch the player’s hands. However, with Jim Wuest, I’m glad he sets up on the right side, because he makes the Best. Faces. Ever!

“Dewpoint” made that glorious disco transition after Jeff Lloyd nailed his guitar solo, when Wuest took over. Mike Garulli was abusing his wah-wah pedal, and Tony D’Amato was beastly all night on bass. Lloyd handled vocals on “The Ibis,” one of six songs (half the set) from the band’s most recent album, the superb Strawberry Mansion.

“How Would I” was a flat-out rocker with Lloyd and Garulli on vocals. This song features great tempo changes; Lloyd soloed, and Jamie Newitt was in the driver’s seat at drum kit, directing traffic. As they moved into “Strawberry Mansion,” they called up Juanjamon and his alto sax (we’re accustomed to seeing him with a tenor). What followed was a ridiculous jam out of the tune, D’Amato blistering on bass and a great turn from Juanjamon. At one point it veered close to the “West LA Fadeaway” vibe. Damn!

The Heavy Pets with Juanjamon

The next one was killer: “Invisible Coyotes,” another tune from Strawberry Mansion, with Garulli singing. It was so hot! When they got to “Xylophone,” a mid-tempo tune, Lloyd sang with Wuest on backing vocals. His electric piano work was divine. The band then vamped as they invited Jon Ditty up to spit some rhymes, which fit perfectly with song. Wuest sang “Spin,” great funk spilling out everywhere and Garulli shredding.

Tony D’Amato

Longtime favorite “Chew” again highlighted the band’s wonderful harmony vocals with Lloyd leading, followed by Garulli singing “3 AM” with its reggae vibe. To close their tremendous set, they went into a rage, “Shahryar’s Rage,” to be exact. Juanjamon was back, and this turned into another badass jam after the outstanding vocals. First, Juan and Wuest on clavinet traded back and forth, then Garulli one more time.

Juanjamon in the jam

Called back for an encore, they delivered “Real News,” a song whose intro recalls that great Zappa song “Hey Punk.” Lloyd sang and soloed on this one to finish off a wonderful night of camaraderie, music, charitable giving… and beer!

Tony D’Amato & Jim Wuest

As always, sound engineer Chris Fama delivered another masterpiece.

All photographs courtesy of John Strojny

[ROW JOMAH: Funk, Back & Forth, Fire & Ice > I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Choke, This Christmas, Little Plans, Sledgehammer, Cat People, Tell Me, Taintasia]

[HEAVY PETS: Dewpoint, The Ibis, How Would I, Strawberry Mansion, Invisibles Coyotes, Rainy Days, Xylophone, Spin, Chew, 3 AM, Shahryar’s Rage; E: Real News]

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