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The Greyboy Allstars

(20 Mar 2008: The Catalyst — Santa Cruz, CA)

The Greyboy Allstars know how to kick off a tour on the right foot—they don’t start in a boondocks town to get out the rust that they don’t want anyone in the big city to see. They know that the first show is key for establishing a proper vibe for the rest of a tour, which is why they kicked off a ten-date West Coast run with a Spring Equinox blowout in downtown Santa Cruz. 

Not quite as big as San Francisco’s Fillmore, the Catalyst still holds a decent-size crowd while maintaining an intimacy that makes it one of the Golden State’s premier venues. The Catalyst also serves tasty pizza until 2 a.m., a quality service for a venue known for late-night throw-downs. It was a perfect setting for stirring up the positive vibration of a spiritual spring cleaning.

Saxman and band leader Karl Denson has spent the decade going back and forth between the seminal acid jazz of the Greyboy Allstars and the slightly more psychedelic rock attack of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. In either form, he’s a man who flat out knows how to get down, and who always brings an uplifting vibe. Combine that with the supreme talents of the rest of the Greyboy Allstars, and you have a recipe for musical magic.

Maybe there was just a touch of rust, as the first song didn’t quite catch fire. But Denson and the boys rectified this in a major way with song number two, “Right On”, which caught a spark right out of the gate and created a flame that the band kept alive for the rest of the night. “Volcano” kept things burning, while “Still Waiting” introduced Denson on lead vocals for some bluesy funk about the girl who went away. Ace keyboardist Robert Walter led the way on the jam with some superb organ work, followed by sizzling solos from guitarist Elgin Park on his semi-hollow body guitar, and then Denson on sax.

Chris Stillwell’s sharp bass playing was front and center on Greyboy classic “Jack Rabbit”, which had the entire Catalyst getting down on the good foot. The jam kept going and going, with supreme exploration by all the soloists, while Stillwell and drummer Aaron Redfield kept the turbo-charged groove flowing. There wasn’t a booty in the house that wasn’t shaking. The jam epitomized the Allstars’ gift for getting a dance floor going; and this energy carried through for the rest of the set, leaving the crowd utterly elated at halftime.

The second set was more of the same, with one supremely groovy jam after another and an energy level that just wouldn’t let up. The chemistry between these individually talented players morphed them into a collective whose total output was far more than the sum of the parts. Indeed, at times, it became almost difficult to decide which band member to focus on—they all sounded so damn good. Did the mind want to focus on Stillwell’s groovy bass, Park’s crisp guitar work, Walter’s liquid keys, Redfield’s wicked groove, or Denson’s magic horn?  Such confusion only lasted for a moment, though, before the bodily groove freed the mind from such discretion.

The set peaked with Denson on vocals again for “Get a Job”, a bluesy and super funky job seeker’s lament on which the band conjured a vibe that mixes James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. The jam once again built and built with an electricity level that flowed throughout every boy and girl in the house: the body moved, the mind let go, and the spirit was cleansed.

It may have been a Thursday night, but one would have been hard pressed to tell that anyone in the crowd had to get up for work or school in the morning. By the time the band closed the second set with “Happy Friends”, it was almost 1:30 a.m. and all the friends on the dance floor were still there, moving and grooving. The tired feeling in the morning would soon be forgotten, and the soul would forever recall the Spring Equinox groove magic.


Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.

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