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Sonic Net [ Tues., August 3, 1999 7:16 PM EDT ]

Royal Crown Revue Swing Into Old Hangout

Retro band plays unannounced show at club it frequented in its early days.

Contributing Editor Jenny Slater reports:

SAN FRANCISCO — Fresh off the Vans Warped Tour and on the eve of a string of dates that will take them through October, Royal Crown Revue slicked back their hair and slipped into a favorite old hangout for an unannounced show Sunday that drew a packed crowd of longtime fans.

Word of mouth sufficed to jam the tiny Club Deluxe — an art-deco room just two doors from the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets — with dressed-to-the-nines hipsters thrilled to make the exclusive showcase.

"We used to play here way back when." — Veikko Lepisto, Royal Crown Revue bassist

"It was good to come back here," bassist Veikko Lepisto said during a break between the band's two sets. "We used to play here way back when, and they told us we would always have an open invitation to come on down any time we wanted."

"What a thrill!" Beth Amita, 32, of San Francisco, beamed. "I saw these guys here a long time ago, but I figured their nightclub days were over now. It's so cool that they were able to do this."

Crowding onto the tiny stage promptly at 9:30 p.m., the Los Angeles swing band seemed pleased to be in familiar surroundings. The seven musicians (Lepisto, frontman Eddie Nichols, guitarist James Achor, drummer Daniel Glass, trumpeter Scott Steen and sax players Bill Ungerman and Mando Dorame) wore perfect suits, spiffy shoes and gobs of pomade.

The audience of 100 or so people — the lucky few who'd been able to get tickets, along with some who were invited — seemed thrilled to be there. They greeted the band with loud cheers, whooped after the solos and shouted requests, which the affable, mugging Nichols acknowledged but rarely honored.

Mixing originals from their two major-label albums, Mugzy's Move (1996) and The Contender (1998), with standards, the Revue showed off their versatility and creativity. From the jumpy, bebop sound of their own "Zip Gun Bop" (RealAudio excerpt) to a sultry and swingy version of the jazz classic "Stormy Weather" (RealAudio excerpt), the band improvised just enough make even the traditional songs sound like originals.

The tiny club was full, with well-dressed patrons crowded into the black vinyl booths or standing wherever they could. One table near the stage was pushed aside to allow a few people to dance, though to do so in such tight quarters demanded high levels of coordination.

"It's just good to see them up close," James Limon, 30, of San Francisco said. "I've been a fan for so long, and these guys were some of the first to really nail down this sound. ... The look, the sound, the style — all of it."

Returning for a second set, Royal Crown Revue dipped into material from Walk on Fire, which they released on their own RCR Records in July, after two albums for Warner Bros.

"It's going to be great to have our own operation," Lepisto said of the label. "We've been wanting to do our own thing for a while now. It's tempting to stay with a bigger label, but you give up a lot of control. If we're gonna bust our asses as much as we have [touring], we want to see the results for ourselves."

Singer Eddie Nichols (right) claps as tenor saxophonist Mando Dorame takes a solo.

Photo by Jenny Slater
Mixing the newer material with standards such as the crooning, swingy "Beyond the Sea," the call-and-response jumpiness of "Walk Right In" and "Salt Peanuts" — a song made famous by such jazzmen as Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Miles Davis — the band flexed its muscles in a diversity of styles. "Besame Mija (Baille Para Qui)," an original, was a slow tango; "Port au Prince" offered samba-inspired silliness.

Taking generous solos here and there, each member had a moment in the spotlight. Other bandmembers would troop off the stage and down the ramp to the club's kitchen (which served as backstage). This ritual repeated numerous times throughout the evening, with solos and duets stretching the musical numbers for maximum impact.

The audience cheered wildly for the drum solos as well as bass, sax and trumpet solos.

It was well past midnight before the band — all of it — left the stage for good.

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