If top 40 radio is your bag, you'll enjoy Kindred Spirit. The band includes a keyboardist singer, a lead vocalist who also shakes a tambourine, a guitarist, bassist and drummer. We saw them on a recent Saturday night at Theo's in Hightstown, a comfortable venue with a spacious outdoor patio for warm, dry summer nights. There was no cover charge and a fairly crowded bar.
Most of the band members of have "real" day jobs: Gary Bernabe, on bass, is a VP of group health operations for the Savino Group, a division of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network on Alexander Road; Ed O' Connor, on guitar, is a senior safety expert for the division of highway safety for the state of New Jersey and is director of the child safety program, and for many years, he toured the country as part of the well-known Beatles tribute band the Mahoney Brother; Al Sirois, on drums and vocals, teaches art at Mercer County College and is a freelance graphic artist and web designer, and is an accomplished writer and painter, who has had recent exhibitions in New Hope and Stockton; and lead vocalist Mike Slom is an executive recruiter with Ajilon Finance in Forrestal Village, who had a story published in U.S.1's summer fiction issue in 2002. Laura Wittman, on keyboards and vocals, is a homemaker who teaches piano and is extensively involved in volunteer work, particularly in the education association in Millstone Township. All five band members are vocalists and their three, four, and five-part harmonies reveal their background in choir music.
According to band member Slom, the band got together by complete chance about two and half years ago, when Slom ran into Sirois at a WPST event at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton. "We talked briefly about trying to get together to play some music. Then I had a business lunch with another friend who also expressed a similar interest, and then two days later, ran into Bernabe at a school function and Bernabe said he had a basement full of equipment and why don't we all just come over there and give it a try." Slom says the band drew inspiration from local legends like the Greaseband, but stresses that Kindred Spirit plays more classic and current radio rock than the Greaseband, which plays more oldies.
Over the July 4th weekend, the band played for a crowd of 5,000 at the Lawrence Township fireworks at Rider University. They play for dance parties at places like Olde York Country Club and play regularly at Theo's in Hightstown.
At Theo's, the band delivered up renditions of all the tunes familiar to anyone who listens to pop and top 40 radio, including tunes like "Wild Nights" by Van Morrison and "How Far Is Heaven" from Los Lonely Boys.
"We want to play things that people know but not things that have been done to death," Slom says, adding that the band's sets are made up of tunes from 1960s artists from Van Morrison, the Beatles, and the Stones, to current hits by Jon Mayer, Jewel, U2, Liz Phair, and the Calling, as well as 1970s and '80s artists like the B-52s, Hall & Oates, and Fleetwood Mac. "It's like changing the dial back and forth from 97.5 'The Hawk' to 94.5 WPST."
Kindred Spirit, www.kindredspiritrocks.com. Upcoming dates.
Friday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m. to midnight, Stephanie's 9 South Main Street, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. 215-489-1644. Also Friday, September 16.
Sunday, August 28, 4 p.m., the FirstEnergy Stadium, 2 Stadium Way, Lakewood, 4 p.m., preceding the Lakewood Blue Claws game. 732-901-7000.
Saturday, September 10, 8:30 p.m. to midnight, Theo's Lakeside Inn, 101 South Main Street, Hightstown. 609-426-9345.
Blue Plate Special
Schmushed into a corner between the bar and a wall at Princeton's Triumph Brewing Company on Friday, July 22, the five members of Blue Plate Special managed to create a big sound and a solid presence in spite of limited space.
Triumph, with its very intimate performance setting, is a great place to see music, but it is not the best place to hear music. The high ceilings, made to accommodate brewing vats, make for a real acoustical challenge, so it is hard to create solid sound levels among the different instruments and vocal mikes. Still, the band did its able best, and they were swinging and inviting the room along for the ride immediately.
Sticking mostly to old blues standards, the members of the band, who hail from the Jackson area - including founding members Vinnie Roslin on bass and Robin Roselle on harp/vocals; Bobby D. DeCotiis on guitar and lead vocals; Roger Gorey on drums/vocals; and the band's newest member, Greg Lega on piano - swap vocals and share the spotlight with the ease of music business veterans. There is no "star" in this fivesome; they work as a team and let the music take the spotlight.
Each member of the band boasts some impressive credits. Founding member Roslin's bio includes work with Springsteen and Charlie Musselwhite, as well as opening for blues greats Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King.
Dressed in a black, red, and white theme, the group has a bit of a hip, retro look. Roslin's sparkly red top added a bit of flash, and Lega's piano - with the directive, "talk nerdy to me," emblazoned on it - epitomized the full-on playfulness that infused much of their performance.
The band started on time, which, to this reporter, gives them huge points. I can't remember the last time I went to hear a band in a club venue when they actually began playing on schedule.
They started out with "Mississippi Here I Come," with Bobby D on lead vocals. Sadly, his mike level was low in comparison to the instruments, so it was hard to hear him. Still, the playful interactions between him and Roselle on harp got the energy up, in spite of sound levels.
Drummer Gorey took on B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone" with gravelly vocals reminiscent of Tom Waits, and although Roselle's vocals were wanting a bit in the melodic arena, she had a "been there/done that/survived it" feel that's right-on for the blues.
Musically, the band was tight - it's clear that they have been working together for a long time and they are all pros. Bobby D's guitar was smooth, and he swapped well with Lega for leads on most songs. Roselle wailed on harp, providing solid lead fill, and Gorey seemed very relaxed, tucked back in the corner on his drums. Because bass is rarely flashy, it's easy to forget about it, but without a tight bass line holding things together, you'd notice it, and Roslin's bass was tight indeed.
Most of the crowd at Triumph didn't seem like they'd come to hear the band. Instead, it seemed like they were there to mix and mingle, with the music as background - pleasant background, but background just the same. But on a few of songs where the band really let loose - Louis Jordan's "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" in particular - the normally quiet crowd at the bar was clapping to the music and bopping their heads.
A week prior to my visit to Triumph, I went to the Bucks County Blues Society's 22nd Annual R&B picnic in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Rather than watch Blue Plate Special try to make their big sound and playful vibe fit in Triumph's small venue, I would have loved to see them get a chance to strut their stuff at the festival. On a full-sized stage with great acoustics, I suspect that crowd would have been on their feet the entire time, rocking out to what Blue Plate Special was cooking.
Blue Plate Special, www.blueplatespecialbluesband.com. Upcoming dates:
Saturdays, August 13 and September 17, Rova Farms, 120 Cassville Road (Route 571), Jackson. 732-928-0928.