The Packway Handle Band & JP Soars, Tearin’ It Up
Friday was another amazing night at The Funky Biscuit. You’ve got your bluegrass and Americana with the Packway Handle Band and your old-school blues with JP Soars and The Red Hots.The folks who do the bookings at this club really are bold in sticking two acts on the stage that couldn’t be any different. They may just look at the opener as a spot to fill, but they’re not afraid to allow the opening act to sound completely different in style to the headliner. Usually what happens at venues is that someone books a headliner, and if they want an opener they try to get one that will be within the same genre. The only time I’ve ever seen a venue book two acts that are completely different from each other, with the exception of The Biscuit, is when the venue booked contrasting headliners. However, The Packway Handle Band, being the opener in this case, has done quite well this year. They’ve been fortunate enough to have gone out on tour with arena acts like Foreigner and Kid Rock. It’s so nice to see these big stars really appreciate roots music and to give it a spotlight. I remember the first time I saw Packway, on Tybeee Island, at a little park. It was a little music festival with about five or six acts on the bill. Packway got a nighttime slot and headlined the event. There was maybe 50 people in the audience. It’s crazy how a band that I saw about six or seven years ago can go from playing in a park for 50 people, to playing stadium shows.
The Packway Handle Band played some stuff off of their latest album with Jim White, Take It Like a Man. The pulled out “Jim 3:16” and “Gravity Won’t Fail,” and interspersed the songs with some great sotries. They began talking about Kid Rock and said that one of the things they had in common with him was that they’ve also had incidents with the law in a Waffle House parking lot. I thought that was funny and great of them to share with the audience. Then they did a song where it’s requiered for each member of the band to sing about something they regret.
Everyone in that band can play and sing. Michael Paynter is the lead vocalist, but he also plays mandolin and drums. While they filled their set with plenty of great originals, they also did two covers. The first was a bluegrass version of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls,” which they really made their own. I don’t really think there is a way for anyone to do a Queen song without making it their own, unless they have the vocal chops of Freddie Murcury. Since these guys do not, they covered it correctly.
The other cover was was Leonard Cohen’s “Diamonds.” I had never heard it before, but I’m glad they chose a cover like this, because it’s unique. Since “Diamonds ” is not as well-known of a song as “Fat Bottom Girls,” the expectation of the audience, as to whether or not the band could do the song justice, wasn’t as high. I was rather impressed with the fact they chose to do a song or two off thier first, self-titled, record — “The Story.” The band’s humor and upbeat material certainly kept the audience’s atttention before JP Soars started. Even people who had never heard of Packway thought they were a great opener for Soars.
Soon enough, it came time for JP Soars and The Red Hots, who are, on the surface, a typical blues band. However, Soars likes to take some “detours,” as he calls them. He also has quite the band, and when I saw him last Friday he had quite the show. Somehow, he made me forget how similar blues guitar players — and blues acts in general — can sound. The fact that his blues didn’t bore me had to do with these “detours” that he took. He played around with surf-rock guitar — a very bold decision, because it could have sounded like a bad Dick Dale impersonation. He did a Dick Dale cover, toward the end of his set. But he managed to play surf-rock in a way where he was just having fun with the style and that he wasn’t trying to impersonate anyone.
Soars pulled out some really interesting originals, including a tune called “Whoopie Shuffle,” with a guitar that he got in Georgia. He traded some of his CDs with the owner of the club, for a guitar that was hanging on the club’s wall. The owner got to make a profit off of Soars’s CDs.
He also did a tune entitled, “The Back Room,” inspired by the club he and The Red Hots used to play at when they were first starting out. This is such a great song because not only does it remind Soars of the early days of his band, but it’s also thanks, in a weird way, to those who were suporters in the early days of the band. Soars even showed off his slide skills, with this little two-string guitar that he built out of a cigar box. Whie his homemade guitar may not have all the capabilities of a regular instrument, it still sounds sweet. I’ve seen artists use guitars like this before — some who have even used carmufflers, instead of cigar boxes.
Soars pulled out a few covers during his set, too. There was “Deep Down in Florida” by Muddy Waters and “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. He played the latter as an instrumental, which showed off his strengths. It also showed him making smart decisions as an artist. Soars knew he was not able to capture Armstrong’s range, so he instead chose to show his appreciation for the song with his playing. Soar’s drummer, Chris Peet, was impressive. He not only had the blues rhythms down, but he knew how to drum all the surf tunes as well.
Once again The Funky Biscuit has managed to book two fantastic acts that make for one musical evening of listening and enjoyment.