One of the ways I can judge how good a show was is by how sore my legs are the following morning. I’m a dancer, you see. To paraphrase the great Dave Mustaine, dancing’s my business, and business is good.
Tuesday night, at Harlow’s, it was business time.
I woke up the next morning and could hardly walk. I also think I strained my smile muscles. It was a heck of a show.
I arrived at 8:30 p.m. to find Harlow’s mostly empty, so I went upstairs to Momo’s where folk rocker Dan Bern was finishing up his set.
What an unexpected treat that was. I caught three songs, including one, presumably called "This is the year-by-year home run totals of the great Barry Bonds," which was just that.
"In 1986, he hit 16 home runs. . . then 25, 24, 19, 33," and so on and so forth.
I really enjoyed the abridged set of catchy, funny, immediately sing-along-able folk songs. Bern and his acoustic guitar were accompanied by a banjo, harmonica and lap steel. The musicians had eschewed the corner stage, choosing instead to stake out a patch of floor in the center of the room from which to hold court. What would have been an intimate show regardless was suddenly far more so.
Next time Mr. Bern comes to town, it won’t be blind luck that gets me to the show. It’ll be clear-eyed intent. That boy’s good.
About 15 minutes into my Dan Bern experience, I heard a pulsing beat coming from downstairs. Deputy’s opening act, Chicago’s Mighty Dub Killerz, had taken the stage. With great ambivalence, I bid adieu to Bern and the boys and headed down to Harlow’s, more out of a sense of duty to you, dear reader, than an actual desire to trade out shows.
It was a very different scene downstairs.
Mighty Dub Killerz are a fairly hardcore electronica reggae dubstep act. Zach Deputy is about as laid back as they come, island breeze summertime soul-calypso reggae.
The reggae is about the only thing the two share, and they couldn’t be further apart on the reggae scale.
If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the two acts’ respective fan bases, the 1 percent overlap would encompass me and about 15 other dudes.
Your typical Zach Deputy fan sees MDK, with their pounding bass, rib shaking "wompwompwompWOMPWOMPWOMP" and rapped lyrics like "I was innocent, ‘cause I was militant, we had to instigate a prison riot," and they are at the least perplexed, and quite possibly fearful.
Take Paul Mason, who wrote on Mr. Deputy’s Facebook wall regarding the Sacramento show: "Any opening band tonight? I was at the show in SF at the Boom Boom Room, and I wouldn’t want to experience that opener again…"
Some folks just can’t handle the womp.
I thought it was great. I especially enjoyed their take on classics that they dubbed out and made their own. They did a dope riff on Peter Tosh’s "Legalize It," which included a nod to Musical Youth’s "Pass the Dutchie" ("How does it feel when you got no herb?") and another on Bob Marley’s "Sun Is Shining" ( "To the rescue, here I am!").
Mine was the minority opinion, however. For the bulk of the set, I was the only person on the dance floor. I was joined sporadically by an extra crunchy, young tie-dyed couple who would gamely give it a go for a couple minutes at a time, before adjourning back to their seats.
It was basically an unfortunate pairing for the fans as well as the band. It’s a shame, because there is a vibrant dustup scene in Sacramento, but they were all over at Townhouse, where Tuesday night happens to be Grimey (dubstep) night. Right town, right night, wrong venue. Two out of three ain’t good.
To the relief of many, the set ended just after 9:30, and the squares could breath a little easier.
People kept steadily pouring in through the break, and what had been a nearly empty room when I had first arrived was nicely peopled by the time Big Zach took the stage just after 10 p.m.
Zach’s a one-man band, and he has quite the control center/cockpit setup on stage. He is bracketed on either side by all manner of electronic gadgets and gizmos (not the technical terms, but I’m a greenhorn when it comes to the tools of his trade). I recognized one of them to be an electronic drum pad, but that was only because he was hitting it with a drumstick, and I was able to put two and two together.
In front of him a whole bouquet of microphones jut up at chin level. At his feet are a plethora of pedals that he uses to, among other things, record loops of himself which he then plays over. His live songs are kind of like jigsaw puzzles: you get one piece at a time, you keep putting them together until eventually you have a picture of dogs playing poker. Except, the picture is an amazing song, and there’s no dogs playing poker (ed. note: What the hell are you talking about?).
He opened with "My Annie," a beautiful, yearning love song that really shows off his four-octave vocal range with some awesome, climbing scalelike singing and a bouncy beat.
Up next was "Valencia." He started out with a tight little guitar lick, added some strummed guitar, a little beat boxing and then some drums. By the time he starts singing in earnest, "I met her on the mountain, y’all," the crowd was in a minor tizzy, that became less so when he reached the titular chorus.
The crowd maintained their intensity level through a wailing jam on "All I Need," then tizzy became fervor on the fourth song of the evening, the uber-funky "Mama Just Dance."
He followed that with about the dirtiest tango song you’ll ever hear in your life. "Way Down Tango" features Zach spitting hot fire over a bass-heavy and seriously infectious groove. This ain’t your grandmother’s tango.
After a blistering guitar solo to cap "Tango," he closed an epic first set with fan favorite and oh-so subtle "Tubesteak" ("You only want me for my tubesteak and my collared greens"). The fervor became even more fervent.
At 11:01 ZD left the stage for a relatively rare but well deserved Tuesday night set break.
You know how when an alcoholic stops drinking for years and then gets back on the sauce, the alcoholism returns as it would if they had been drinking the whole time they were sober? Zach Deputy is kind of like that, but with music. 11:31 he started up, not right where he left off, but where he would have been if he had never stopped in the first place. He obliterated the bluesy "Doctor Doctor" to open the second set, and bam, just like that, we were at fever pitch again.
There we remained the rest of the evening. "Act That Way" featured an extended instrumental intro that really showcased Zach’s incredible musicianship. "That Girl" is another searingly soulful funk track that would get even your most died in the wool "stand there and watch" concertgoers getting loose.
He closed the set with probably my favorite song of the evening, the ultimate "feel good song of the summer," for this summer and all others, "Coconut."
As big as the smiles in the audience were when Zach hit the sing-along "Oooah whoooooaaah, wash it in the water" refrain, the biggest and brightest smile in the place probably belonged to the man on stage.
At 12:38 he left the stage, only to return moments later for a two-song encore, which began with a crowd favorite, "Games," but closed with by far his slowest, most mellow song of the evening. Closing an encore with a really mellow song is a controversial move for sure. It was to the consternation of many in the audience who clearly wanted to end the evening with another barn burner, but I thought it was a nice, chill way to close the evening. Plus, I was pretty out of breath by that point.
Big Zach FTW.