WOW Tales: The California Honeydrops

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The California Honeydrops

 

Occasionally we have bands capable of carrying a bill all by themselves, no opening act needed — we call these “an Evening With…” events. Tonight was the California Honeydrops, a show that was much anticipated but we had some concerns about due to the fact that the band is scheduled to also perform at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta later this week. Whether drawn by the sweet soul music or our nicely chilled main room thanks to the HVAC system going on full blast, a nice crowd of around 350-400ish people turned out on a blistering hot day outside that topped triple digits well into the evening. It was so hot that one individual outside the venue appeared to have suffered from heat stroke and had to be treated by paramedics before the show.

The band has come through Eugene before, in fact frontman Lech Wierzynski noted at one point a song they were about to play had been written in a Eugene hotel room before a performance at Cosmic Pizza, but he was quick to point out how thrilled the band was to have “graduated” to a bigger room at the WOW Hall. An 8-piece band from Oakland, CA, featuring two drummers, three horn players (four if you including Wierzynski switching from guitar to trumpet on multiple songs), piano/guitarist Lorenzo Loera, and a partridge in a pear tree — the California Honeydrops on the surface are a retro soul band. While its core sound reflects that of 1970s softer groove soul giving cool-breeze-on-a-sunny-day-at-the-beach vibe, the band also jumped around through many different genres through the night. Opening with an instrumental reminiscent of first-wave early 60s ska and adding in other tunes that leaned heavily into New Orleans jazz, ragtime, calypso, South African folk, electric blues, and southern fried funk; the band have clearly spent a lifetime listening to a wide variety of influences making them more akin to a gumbo style serving of soul-influenced melds more similar to Little Feat or the Neville Brothers than sticking strictly to classic Motown or Stax sounds. Add a dash of BB King, Alan Toussaint, and a little Black Crowes, and you get a sense of the sound of this eclectic Bay Area band.

Wierzynski’s voice was on point as an at-times falsetto soulful sound that reminded me of a Smokey Robinson or Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations, with at times the band providing backing harmonies that came across as a direct throwback to classic 60s/70s Motown.

After riling up the crowd a bit, the band took requests from the audience to determine much of their playlist for the first set. Highlights included some audience callback breakdowns that brought out the big-time Motown feel harkening back to classics like the Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey” or Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Pt. 2,” and a beautiful soulful cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” that they said was influenced by seeing a band get stuck on a riff for a long stretch at a festival playing a Church Revival-like southern groove that they decided to lift and repurpose for Prine’s classic.

After about a 20-minute intermission the band returned for their second set, jumping into an upbeat South African instrumental titled “Orlando” that to my ears sounded more Caribbean influenced. They announced it stemmed from a festival they had played where every band was required to learn and perform other people’s music, and it was something the band wanted to learn because it’s the kind of music they’re often listening to while on the road. Other highlights included a very Chicago electric bluesy number which I believe is called “Big Boss Man,” and plenty more audience callbacks and a dueling drum solos breakdown to work the crowd up into a frenzy.

Encores always feel a little silly at the WOW Hall since our side stage areas are so exposed to the audience, when the band leaves the stage they’re still very much within the line of sight, making the tradition of walking off and waiting for the crowd to get loud beckoning for their return a little odd — but our audience obliged none the less. Especially with eight people in the band, there wasn’t much of an offstage departure. For the first number saxophone/clarinet/flute player Leon Cotter and Wierzynski were the only two on stage to do a happy little folksy tune I believe is titled “Birthday Suit” — for which a lighthearted moment came when Wierzynski admitted to the crowd he had completely forgotten the words to the third verse, then noodled for a bit without losing the beat while Cotter shouted between clarinet riffs what the starting line was until it jarred Wierzynski’s memory.

The rest of the band soon returned, two members donning washboards to play a jaunty southern blues tune, before closing out the night with a rousing crowd callback upbeat soul number to call it a night just before 11 p.m.

Thank you to all of our staff, volunteers, security, patrons, and of course the band for a wonderful night of beautiful music at the WOW Hall. We put the HVAC system to the test and the crowd stomped away on our dance floor.

 

-Kurt

WOW Hall Marketing Coordinator

 

 

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