By Leslie D. Rose
One listen to the band Speak[easy] and you’ll immediately know where the name derives.
With grooves reminiscent of your grade A, hole-in-wall, basement-style speakeasy, the young men of the Baton Rouge band have played their fair share of events in The Capital City since their 2013 Indiecent Exposure win, including the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, Jivefest and WHYR’s Radiopalooza.
June 7 was no different for the jazzy, soulful group as they graced the stage of the historic Spanish Moon, bringing to join them as openers, 99000 AD, to create somewhat of an Indiecent Exposure reunion of sorts.
Doors for the heavily attended show opened at 9 p.m. and immediately saw a rush of Saturday night patrons excitedly paying the evening’s cover charge. Immediately everyone seemed to swarm the bar making it appear just an average Saturday night at the Moon, but as the Motown background music came to a halt, the crowd became overly eager, proving that they were indeed, there for the band.
But they would wait nearly two hours before the first note was strung.
Somewhere around 11 p.m. the loud and funky members of 99000 AD hopped onstage, two guitars, one bass, drums and a saxophone created the soundtrack that would continue to build anticipation for the main performance.
For nine songs, the audience grooved with the openers, who joked onstage about meeting Speak[easy] at DIG’s annual Indie band competition.
“When I saw they had a guy with a xylophone, I knew we had lost,” said Jason Choctaw Hall, lead singer and guitarist of 99000 AD. Side note Hall, it’s a vibraphone.
“They were the champs and we were the chumps, but at least we could be the second place chumps,” he continued.
Overall 99000 AD was quite the rowdy band, lacing the time between sets with profanity and sex-enthused jokes including a story about adding saxophonist Saxy Dom B to the group.
“Give it up for Dom,” Hall said. “When we got Dom, we knew it was over – the panties are gonna be droppin’ because that’s one sexy sax.”
All in all however, the saxophone was quite hard to make out in most of their songs as the other instrumentation drowned out the woodwind instrument.
They rounded out their set with a reggae beat as the lead singer did some sort of rapping vocalization, a blues song and another loud tune as more people packed out the Moon, ready for the main act.
99000 AD seemed a bit of an ill-fit to set the stage for Speak[easy] but they showed the crowd a good time and proved faithful to the musical influences listed on their Facebook fan page, “Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Deftones, Slayer, Neville Brothers, Fishbone, Tori Amos, Infectious grooves and all types of ill shit.”
The cool came over the room just as soon as Grant Hudson, Chris Polk , Nick Garrison, John Mann V and Eli Williams, better known as Speak[easy], took to the stage. Immediately during set up, Williams, the band’s drummer, sparked a cigarette. It became eerily obvious that the vibe would be evocative of the band’s namesake.
The instrumental blend of the trombone, bass, guitar, drums and vibraphone was like a perfect, yet effortless harmony.
The guys, joined by trumpeter Luke Scallan, and later by flutist Matt Bizot were definitely a much quieter bunch than their openers. Letting the music speak for itself, the souls on stage far dated the ages of the actual musicians.
Their set started after midnight but that didn’t appear to have an effect on fans at all. Cameras flashed, hips swayed, the drink pour-ups became more frequent and couples danced into each other. There were even women fans who posted claim to front of the stage spots to watch their favorite guys groove.
The first song started off heavy on the trombone with a bluesy funk jam laced under it. The vibraphone gave way for a unique and enchanting sound giving them also a jazzy vibe.
The young, but seemingly polished musicians made the crowd rush the floor as they provided calypso-jazz-like music suitable for dancing, foot-tapping or head-nodding depending on one’s confidence levels.
They were pure musicianship with the feel of a smoke-filled speakeasy, kind of like drinking moonshine by the glass. After each song the next began through monstrous applause and encouragement from the audience, proving that the young men have built quite the fan base in their two years together with many of the songs being originals for them.
“We got to play a lot of new material for this show which was exciting,” said guitarist Grant Hudson. “There’s never a dull moment when you’re on your toes. We got a lot of great feedback on our new material we debuted, saw lots of old and new faces in the process and had an overall great reaction.”
And about that new fan base…
“We feel very blessed that people are starting to enjoy our music on this scale,” Hudson said.