Editor’s Note: This is the first in our series of band reviews as we narrow down the choices for the band to play at the U.S.1 Breakdown Party, Thursday, September 15, 4 to 6 p.m., at the close of the Greater Princeton Chamber of Commerce/U.S.1 Better Living Showcase at the Westin Forrestal. Look for more band reviews in coming issues.
By this point, all of the members of the central New Jersey-based VooDUDES are veteran musicians. They specialize in New Orleans pioneer rock, classic R&B, blues, and zydeco. The youngster in this mature group of seasoned musicians is drummer Dave "Thumper" Ambrosy, who recently turned 41.
The band includes Andy Bernstein on lead vocals, harmonica, maracas, and a variety of other instruments, Gary "Lido" Ambrosy on guitars and lapsteel, Fred Saunders on bass, John Barry on keyboards, and the younger Ambrosy on drums.
At a recent outdoor concert at the East Brunswick Municipal Center, next to the top-notch East Brunswick Library, the band toned down the volume on its set a bit to appeal to the demographics of the crowd, which included a number of East Brunswick seniors. The VooDUDES on this particular night were quite different from what you might see if you saw them at a place like Cambridge Inn in Spotswood or the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, where all the stops would be pulled out.
The subtleties and dynamics in their performance on this night were extraordinary: Gary Ambrosy is one of the best slide guitarists in the state, yet at no point was he overly loud. His younger brother, drummer Dave Ambrosy, knows how to play as part of an ensemble, and usually, drummers are blamed when a band is too loud. Lead vocalist Andy Bernstein, the senior member of the group, brings a wealth of experience to his role as front man for the VooDUDES. He has spent many years fronting various bands out of his home base in Highland Park, including the Home Boys, the Hub City All-Stars, and a range of other groups that were always focused on classic R&B, funk, roots-rock, and other African-American musical genres. Bassist Fred Saunders locked in with drummer Ambrosy easily enough, and keyboardist John Barry – who works by day at the infamous Hamilton bulk mail facility that had to be closed due to anthrax contamination – is one of the top blues and roots-rock keyboardists in the state, having served long tenures with the Hounds, the Castle Browne Band, and other blues and blues-rock groups.
The VooDUDES’ set on the lawn included tunes with mass appeal, like Hank Williams "Jambalaya," Elvis Presley’s hit, "That’s Alright, Mama," and several of keyboardist Barry’s clever originals, like "Goin’ to New Orleans" and "River City Boogie." Early in their set, they included a fine rendering of the late Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson’s "comeback" hit, "A Drink of Tanqueray."
Because they toned down their amplifiers and overall volume so well for this diversified East Brunswick audience, I’d say the VooDUDES have the collective experience to turn in a top-notch, thoroughly entertaining performance.