Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies at the Gramercy Theatre

Following his high school graduation in 1981, Steve Perry left his hometown of Binghamton, New York, for Eugene, Oregon, to pursue track and field and a chemistry degree at the University of Oregon. Perry started a punk trio called the Jazz Greats in 1983, followed by the garage rock group Saint Huck, and the funky Mr. Wiggles, until finally establishing the Cherry Poppin' Daddies in 1989. Originally a punk, funk and ska band, the Daddies now embraces big band swing. The band's sixth studio album, a swing/rockabilly double album entitled White Teeth, Black Thoughts, was released in 2013. A tribute album to the music of the Rat Pack entitled Please Return the Evening will be released in 2014. Presently, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies is Perry on vocals, William Seiji Marsh on lead guitar, Dana Heitman on trumpet, Willie Matheis on tenor saxophone, Joe Freuen on trombone, Andy Page on alto saxophone, Dan Schmid on bass guitar and Paul Owen on drums. Only Perry, Schmid and Heitman remaining from the founding line-up.

Throughout the 1990s, when the Cherry Poppin' Daddies was a cutting edge punk and third wave ska band, the band's names drew controversy and even protests. The band fueled the protests with provocative stage shows, sometimes featuring a mock crucifixion, flag burning, go-go dancers or the "Dildorado," a penis-shaped modified ride-on lawnmower which mimicked ejaculation by shooting salvos of colorful fluids from its tip. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight opening for Rusted Root, the Daddies featured nothing cutting edge or controversial. Perry, smiling and dancing in his white tuxedo jacket, simply led the band through a collection of original songs and big band swing classics. This was the problem. The band played well as a unit, but it had little space for the jazz improvisations that makes swing great. Likewise, if the singer was going to sing Frank Sinatra, as in "Luck Be a Lady", "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "That's Life," he should be an outstanding vocalist, and Perry is not even close. While the audience enjoyed the novelty of hearing a swing band in a rock venue, the Daddies failed to meet the musical standards of even a lounge band. Unless it is going to try to do swing better than the average lounge band, the ensemble needs to get back to ska and skip the shtick.

Visit the Cherry Poppin' Daddies at www.daddies.com.