KILLER DELUXE MAKES THEIR DEBUT AT JAMMIN’ JAVA
Jammin’ Java is a small club in Northern Virginia that one might mistake as a simple coffee house from the outside. On the inside, you won’t find a barista. It’s a local gathering place for food and drink, with the emphasis not on either. The stage commands all the attention. In the back of a room that holds a few hundred people at best, the small stage has hosted some very big talent. The first act I saw there was Will Hoge, a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, whose powerful sound threatened the structural integrity of the building. In the past two years, I’ve seen several acts from Virginia whose sound was equally threatening, and the talent level was on par with many big-name stars. Awaiting the arrival of the headlining band, I was standing in the middle of the room thinking about the places iconic bands got their start. Most are described as being a lot like this one. Everyone starts out as a name nobody knows, musicians known only on the local scene, playing some original music and a few covers. When you hear them live for the first time, you know instantly that they have something special.
Killer Deluxe was a music project created by Charlottesville musicians, Andy Waldeck and Chris Reardon. They weren’t strangers before this, as they’ve played together in past years, but this is something very different. Most often, guys put a band together and eventually record some original music. Andy and Chris are both exceptional musicians, songwriters, and singers, so they weren’t starting from ground zero. They had an idea for fronting a new band, selected 12 songs they’d written previously for other artists that felt like an identifiable catalog, recorded them, and released the full-length album, Killer Deluxe, this past February through Noble Steed Music. Pulling the songs together under one name has created the persona the two of them give a heartbeat to. It’s an energy that cannot be contained in digital format. This music demands a stage.
Turning Killer Deluxe into a live act required backing up their shared vocals with a group of musicians that could unleash the sound they envisioned. Seasoned veterans were a must, and the stage nearly buckled under the weight of their enormous talent. They decided the music needed additional means of expression and added a horn section to the basic set up, bringing seven players to the stage – Matt Miceli (guitar), Mike Tony Echols (bass, BGV), Tommy Gann (keys, BGV), Nate Brown (drums, BGV), Matt Echols (trombone), Daniel Davis (trumpet), and Ken Francis Wenzel (sax, BGV). Their role was no mere backup band. The music and personality of Killer Deluxe requires a full frontal assault. It was an unusual position for Andy and Chris to be without instruments on a stage, armed only with microphones and their magnetic charisma to entertain the audience. It was an arsenal beyond what the room could hold.
There were two opening acts before the posse that is Killer Deluxe would headline the evening. Lord Nelson kicked off the show like they were charging into battle. As I’ve learned over the past couple of years, Virginia boys aren’t real quiet, and when they’re making music, even less so. The band was formed in 2012 by two brothers, Kai (lead vocals, guitar) and Bram (drums) Crowe-Getty, with additional members, Robert Word (guitar), Trevor Pietsch (bass), and Henry Jones (trombone). They’re based out of Charlottesville, the anchor of Albemarle County, and the muse for much of their music. They’re a roots rock band, in much the same style as The Avett Brothers, but with a backbone of southern rock grit behind the Americana tales they tell, with the instrumentation that goes along with that. Though only five on the stage, they generate enough sound for double that, and that’s just the music coming out of them and creating a ruckus. Whether it’s harmony driven, southern rock guitar lickin’, or foot stompin’ porch pickin’, they are at home in the music they make – unique, almost spiritual, and powerful. Adding a dedicated horn player to the mix isn’t something you see in this music very often, but it spices things up in the way of an inflection on some sweet spots in the song. Their live show can’t help but draw you in to the music, whether you’re a Virginia native or not. By the end of their set, you’ll wish you were.
I was told before his set that Colin Thompson was a musical force, a talent to be reckoned with. That was an understatement. With just a bass player and a drummer behind him, it was like adding the word ‘Experience’ behind Jimi Hendrix. They put a spotlight on the star attraction. On the list of top roots music guitar players, Colin is #21, and it’s clear how he earned that ranking. His slide guitar playing is wicked to the point of converting a saint. He is clearly a disciple of Derek Trucks and Duane Allman, with his personal blues imprint sliding up and down the strings. It’s like no version of the blues I’d heard before, vibrant more than a moody escape. Colin is one of those players you would stop what you were doing to listen to. He’s hypnotic to the point of forgetting where you are. When he stops playing, it takes a bit to get your bearings in the room. He may not be a one-man-band per se, but his playing is a tour de force, proving that the size of the stage cannot confine or define a player of this magnitude. Brilliant beyond billing.
The room had been slowly filling up all night, but just prior to the arrival of Killer Deluxe on the stage, I was suddenly in a crowd, and the anticipation was palpable. The seven members of the band took the stage in their Sunday best. It’s not a big stage, so logistics called for close proximity to one’s fellow player, yet no one crowded our two lead singers. There were two microphone stands center stage, instruments of a sort for the two personalities we eagerly awaited. Not even the band members had any idea how their frontmen would conduct the evening. Low key it was not to be. I’d seen Andy Waldeck play before, and even playing bass with no vocal duties, his presence is known. Fronting a band is where he belongs, and this is not his first rodeo. To a grand introduction, Andy and Chris took the stage in the fashion of The Blues Brothers, wearing suits, shades, and the requisite hat. Attitude, swagger, and oozing charisma, they were so ready for this.
To say that they didn’t have instruments in their hands for this show would be misleading. As good frontmen do, the microphone can be used for much more than voice projection. They both used the stand and the microphone as an extension of personality and musical flare. Conductors for the evening, they led the audience and the band wherever they wished to go. This was a band that was so dialed in, they moved, both musically and physically, as one. As audience members, we moved with them, sang when we were asked to, and clapped, both with and for this amazing ensemble. Being the first show they’d ever played as Killer Deluxe, they had only the 12 songs on their album and one cover song in their set list. We easily would have stayed for double that.
The music is a throwback style of pop, very 60s sounding, and very groovy, with plenty of room for the soul the vocals and the horn section gave it. It lends itself very easily to variances in interpretation during a live performance. “Now That I Found You” reaches its peak with the horn section, making it sound like a vinyl classic from a 60s collection, best of. “Teardrops Burn,” inspired by a Smokey Robinson standard, and “You Burn Me Down” are both groovy, soul tunes that rely heavily on the singer to add a little blues. Full emotional investment is required, and was delivered in spades on those two songs. “Katy Won’t You Just Say Yes” is a song Andy wrote at a friend’s request. He wanted a song that would convince his girlfriend to marry him, and this one did the trick. At Chris’ urging, it became a Killer Deluxe song as well. Many of these songs are playfully reinvented on the stage when you have live interaction between Andy and Chris. Andy’s hips were born to move, and he goes with the mood. Both he and Chris used the stage, and their microphones to perfect effect, adding another layer to the performance. Their showmanship was a definite crowd pleaser. “Your Mama” lets them get their bad boy on, complete with Andy’s butt shaking defiance. The lone cover of the night was a soul classic recorded in 1966 by Sam & Dave, “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” It felt at home in the Killer Deluxe catalog. The set ended on a powerful high with the first song on the album, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” You can’t help but have fun with this song, and everyone in the room was moving along to it. It could easily become an anthem for Killer Deluxe.
It’s a very special thing to be at a band’s first show, in an atmosphere that is completely organic for everyone. It felt very much like being in an underground club, listening to someone new play, and watching the electricity spread through the room as you realize this band could be a very big deal. I don’t think anyone ever dreams as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, especially in the early days of gigging. Those bands had the advantage of youth, and a climate that was hungry for new sounds. 50 years later, we seem to be back at that hungry state, ravenous for good music made by musicians with some real chops. Sometimes, it may be a matter of making music in the right decade for it to be understood and valued for its creativity. Andy Waldeck and Chris Reardon have made a lot of music together, across several decades. They know all too well that timing in the music business is everything, and the time for this may be now. The crowd at Jammin’ Java was a mixed group, age-wise, and everyone was equally excited about the music. It was fun to listen to, dance to, and watch it come alive on the stage. There’s something to be said for experience, and for musicians who still have a lot to say. One of the Killer Deluxe songs is called “The Very First Time.” It’s a love song that captures the magic of that feeling. As Andy said, you never want it to end, but it does, and this performance ended far too soon. For now, you can listen to the Killer Deluxe album on Spotify and purchase it through iTunes or Amazon. I hope this is just the beginning for Killer Deluxe, and this first show leads to more music and a tour. “You’re on a roll baby, and you’re not slowin’ down till tomorrow is yesterday.” Fantastic show. Incredible music. So check it!
Visit the Killer Deluxe website: http://killerdeluxe.com/
Listen to Killer Deluxe on Spotify:
Purchase Killer Deluxe through iTunes:
Visit Colin Thompson’s website: http://www.colinthompsonmusic.com/home
Lord Nelson’s debut album is The County. Listen to it on Spotify:
Purchase The County on iTunes:
Visit Lord Nelson’s website: http://lordnelsonband.com/
For a list of shows at Jammin’ Java, please check their calendar: http://jamminjava.com/
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