Dave Watts & Friends: Soul-Cleansing at Dunedin Brewery
There was exhilaration on every possible level on our first night out to hear live music since March with Dave Watts and Friends at Dunedin Brewery (Florida) on Saturday, August 15. There was the exhilaration of just getting out of the house to do more than shopping. And the sheer joy of seeing and — yes — hugging at least a few of the friends we were seeing for the first time in ages. Plenty of fist and elbow bumps, too. The food was, as always, superb. Beer? Oh, yes! Dogs to pet outside? Always a plus.
Appreciation for Michael Lyn Bryant in working to make this event happen cannot be overstated. In pre-COVID-19 days, events at the brewery were no cover; in order to pay for all of the precautions necessary and to limit the inside patrons to 30 (thirty!), there was a cover charge. However, the patrons under the huge tent outside with socially distanced tables could also hear the music perfectly, AND Bryant worked all night to broadcast a multiple-camera internet livestream of the show. Sound engineer Chris Fama once again had everyone dialed in perfectly.
There was also the wonderful celebration of Danielle Nicole Gregory’s 30th birthday, the genesis for this musical program featuring her partner Dave Watts of The Motet.
Music? No matter what I imagined our first show out might have sounded like, those thoughts were mere washed-out watercolors compared to the technicolor extravaganza that exploded before our eyes and ears in two magnificent sets. An overview of the band first.
The Colorado contingent included Dave Watts, drummer and founder of funk juggernaut The Motet; percussion master Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident; and vocalist Jessica Jones. She was, for the Florida folks, the evening’s unknown. She is a self-described hired gun from Denver, singing with more than a dozen bands BC (before COVID).
The Florida trio involved Meesta Juanjamon, keyboard and tenor sax player and vocalist with CopE and The Juanjamon Band; Jeff Lloyd, guitarist and vocalist with The Heavy Pets; and Matt Lapham, bass player for Shak Nasti and regular accompanist with Roosevelt Collier.
Absence (from the music scene) makes the heart grow fonder, it’s true, but for each of the Florida gents I’ve never heard them play better or with more inspiration (and that counts dozens upon dozens of performances). Florida certainly showed out. It is also worth noting that this group had never rehearsed before the show, because you would never have known that to hear them!
The first set opened with “Shaky Ground,” and it took all of five seconds to understand exactly WHY Watts invited Jones along for the trip and WHY she is in such demand. We were stunned with her power and command: spectacular. Juanjamon was killing on the keyboards, left hand electric piano and right hand organ. Then Lapham, Watts, and Hann romped, and we were assured we were in exactly the right place! Watts is a master at directing this kind of magic and feeling the pulse of the room.
Next up was a mashup designed by Jones: the band played Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” while she sang Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes,” very effectively. That was followed by a very “Funky Bitch.” Juanjamon blew some great tenor, and Lloyd crushed this one. Meanwhile, Watts and Hann had changed chairs, Watts on percussion and Hann on kit.
The next song was indicative of what we could expect the remainder of the night. It certainly started out as “Handcuffs,” the delightfully misogynistic song from Parliament’s Mothership Connection, made all the more awesome sung by Jones. And then they jammed this thing all the way out before bringing it back to the head at the end. Juanjamon again on tenor, Lloyd truly letting loose, and Lapham reminding me once again why he’s my favorite bass player on the planet. He KILLED last night. The pulse laid down by Watts and Hann was deeply on the one. Before bringing the song to a close, the jam shifted into a stunning “Who Knows” (Hendrix), one of the best jams of the night.
They shut down set one with “1+1+1=3,” the Prince tune. At least it started that way, then jammed to the skies. Juanjamon was testifyin’ on tenor, Lloyd stepped out, Lapham soloed, and then we got a fine duet with Wats and Hann. Time for a break!
“Take Me to the River” started set two, more Talking Heads than Al Green, deeply funky. Jones was a master (well, mistress) at every one of these songs. The Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power” was great fun, Juanjamon on synths, incredible percussion, Lapham again. This was the very definition of “cookin’.” When Jones jumped back in, she added some amazing vocalese, Lloyd ripped again, and Watts, Hann and Lapham tore it up.
“Ramble On” was an interesting choice, and Jones was clearly up to the challenge; Lloyd, too. Then it was solid funk time with Prince’s “D.M.S.R.” Well, it started out like that, and then, JAM! Hann and Watts traded chairs again for this one. The Anderson .Paak song “Come Down” featured a Watts drum feature, Hann rap, and Lloyd’s guitar over synths.
As if we weren’t already blown totally away, Watts and Friends made sure with a stunning cover of “No Quarter.” Jones was simply jaw-dropping, and Lloyd CRUSHED this. As they regrouped at song’s end, Jones began singing the lyrics to “Soul Makosa” (the ones MJ “borrowed for “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”) before they slid into “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” This was the Gladys Knight and the Pips version, not Marvin’s. It was perfect in Jones’ hands. Juanjamon blew more nasty tenor, and one last time the Watts-Hann-Lapham trio romped. We were almost wrung dry, but they had enough to close with “Pony,” the Ginuwine song.
What a fabulous birthday party / first time out / put-together band / effort by the DunBrew staff! Mazel Tov to everyone involved! It was the soul-cleansing we all needed! Use this link to watch the entire show!
[SET 1: Shaky Ground, Open Your Eyes/If You Want Me to Stay, Funky Bitch, Handcuffs > Who Knows, 1+1+1=3; SET 2: Take Me to the River, Fight the Power, Ramble On, Come Down, No Quarter, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Pony]