The Circle Bar
Poor Man's Speedball
January 29, 2004
BY JASON SONGE
Before the other band members arrived, Kevin O’Day had his drums set up. O’Day had never heard the music of Poor Man’s Speedball, and he asked what it was like as he conversed with an acquaintance.
O’Day received a call earlier in the day from bandleader/guitarist Jonathan Freilich to fill in for regular drummer Doug Garrison. Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph was also called in late to fill in the low end. Filling out the lineup was master harmonica player Johnny Sansone and baritone saxophonists Hart McNee and Jason Mingledorf for an all-star blues band at The Circle Bar Wednesday night.
Save for rare interweaving sax lines, Poor Man’s Speedball was a groove-oriented and straightforward blues incarnation. Linear motion is uncharacteristic for Freilich, who is better known for his avant-garde stylings with The Naked Orchestra and The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. But, man, he still did straight beautifully. His patiently spaced notes and catchy phrases created a soaring feeling. It’s an eargasm when you add the saxophonists imitating the Memphis Horns by playing every few measures and accenting hooks. Normally there were one or two solos in each song: the guitar, the harmonica, or a sax.
He gained confidence by later in the set, but the night's only anomaly was Freilich’s mousy vocals on the slow burning second number. Next was a slow, sax-driven party jammer. Audience member Eric Lindell was then called up to do vocals on a traditional blues song. Without his guitar, the guy’s still got an amazing voice. Sansone was given the next song, a funky thing that seemed like one long harmonica solo. Sansone destroyed the song, killed, whatever you wanna say. He’s the best harmonica player I’ve heard. The last song of the set had more of a swinging traditional jazz vibe. The sing-songy mountainy number had Freilich back on vocals and band members playfully throwing barbs at one another.
Freilich said he was reduced to begging for tips because Republicans failed to support the arts, to paraphrase, and by the end of the set the tip jar was almost full. Begging does work!
The band was having fun the whole concert, and the group was well-received by the adequate crowd. And because he is great, O’Day escaped his baptism by fire unscathed.