This latest in a series of Dusty Chaps reunions packed the house for a show that was as much a celebration of a time long past as it was about the music.
Fronted by singer and button-accordion-player Peter Gierlach (aka Petey Mesquitey), the Chaps were a local institution in the mid-to-late 1970s, holding court at the infamous Poco Loco Lounge. "That's where you wiped your feet when you left," cracked Gierlach, paying homage to this long-gone ultra-funky venue.
The Chaps recorded three LPs for Capitol Records, and this show featured the complete replication of Domino Joe. A concept album of country gumbo with elements of swing, jazz and rock, it's marked by precise arrangements, intricate horn charts and lots of clever wordplay, all courtesy of songwriter and bassist George Hawke. Dressed in a fire-engine-red suit (with shoes to match), Hawke, without singing a note, was the musical focal point, leading this 13-piece version of the band through a series of difficult twists and turns, all executed to perfection.
The band included a five-piece horn section, two keyboardists (including longtime Hawke sideman Randy Lopez), Fred Hayes on drums, Steve English on pedal steel, Ed DeLucia on guitar and original Chaps member Bill Emrie on violin. Then there was Gierlach, delivering each nuanced vocal with an enthusiasm and flare for showmanship rarely seen onstage these days.
Four tunes into the set—when Lopez strapped on a keyboard-style accordion, and with the trumpets becoming more prominent—you could almost imagine they were covering Calexico. It became clear just how sophisticated and ahead of its time this music was.
At the completion of the album, Gierlach went on to wax poetic about the good old days before finishing the night with two more Chaps classics, "Heat Stroke" and "Juke Joint Daddy."
Opening and setting the mood was Bob Meighan, who had his own thing going in the late-1970s at the Pawnbroker. Flanked by Brian Davies on bass, and Norm Pratt and Peter McLaughlin on guitars, Meighan (there at Hawke's request) was still in good voice, delighting the crowd with a set of covers referenced from that era.