A high-octane tag team took over Skipper's Smokehouse this past Friday night. Headliner Come Back Alice
brought their lights, lasers and a healthy following of fans to the venue while Dropin Pickup
ramped up the excitement with a fiery opening set.
The two groups have one thing in common: both defy expectation. If you'd only heard Dropin Pickup without seeing them prior to this night, you might assume that new addition Gabrielle Arnold was singing. But frontman Mike Farrell handles all the vocals and hits such a high register, even seamlessly venturing into falsetto territories, that if your eyes were closed, you'd swear it was a woman. Think Dido with the energy and enthusiasm of Robin Williams on cocaine. One look at Come Back Alice's co-leads, Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye, and gothic, depressing, sulk-rock comes to mind. But Come Back Alice has dubbed their sound as "Southern Gypsy Funk," which hits the nail square on the head. Both groups feature members with hair, lots and lots of hair, making for plenty of "Cousin It" moments but also kicking the door open to wild, throw-the-hair-back moments that make it all worth it.
Dropin Pickup took the stage, warming up a Friday night crowd that seemed to need after a full work week. Farrell and Arnold had no problem jump-starting the show, wildly bopping up and down before the first notes were ever played and then jumping in with "Invincible," bringing the energy and decibel level up to speed immediately. Arnold bounced and swayed in harmony with Farrell and added an interesting dynamic to the sound. By the second song, "Alexander Supertramp," trumpet player Jackson Harpe snuck in to add some nice accents. By the third song, "Hunger," drummer Denny Umphreys had already put his shirt through the sweat-wash cycle as he danced in his seat while keeping the beat. Overall, the groups energy was infectious and four songs deep, the performance was in full pitch. "Heart of Steal" found viola player Nick Ewing sawing away . Arnold bouncing and kicking like a snowy wood sprite
"Atlantis' saw Farrell bust out the djembe and his, "get up, get up, get up, get up" was as much as an invocation to dance as part of the song, but the dancing didn't start in earnest until "Speechless," when eight people rushed to the floor and broke the dam, a flood of bodies following shortly after. Once the audience was fully-engaged, Dropin Pickup rattled off a beat-boxed, trumpet-blasted favorite, "It's In You," which found Ferrell leaping half-way into the audience, clearing his monitor, the stage, and the rail in front of the stage. Dropin Pickup left the Skipperdome lit and earned their rite of passage, getting people onto the dancefloor during their first show at the legendary venue. Dropin Pickup is just six months deep into their current lineup, an original product of Farrell and lead guitarist Camilo Buitrago, and sometimes the seams show. But overall, their sound was crystalline and stage presence strong.
Then it was time for Skipperdome veterans Come Back Alice to fan the flames. Fresh off throwing a CD release party at the venue this past April, they returned to the stage and led off with "The End Is Coming?"
It was my first time seeing CBA but I could tell from the sound check they had some surprises in store, and my suspicions were confirmed when they started dumping wheel-barrows full of funk onto the crowd, all while showcasing their skills on a range of instruments. Two songs deep, during "Heavy," Jaye set down her electric violin and picked up a six-string. Then she and Tyler began dueling, switching off between lead and rhythm, their chemistry bubbling and popping even when Jaye returned to violin, which she sawed away on mercilessly. She later claimed to go through a new set of bowstrings every three weeks.
"Take It As It Comes" mixed raging funk with Celtic swinging flavor and Tyler skatting, before he broke off to introduce the band and acknowledge the faithful fans cramming the dance floor. They continued a set that touched on grungy rocking "This Time," the Dead-y, Phish-y vibing "Live It Up," and power ballad appealing "The Legend of Lydian Cray," which has its own Charlie Daniels-inspired violin solo. By "The Ride," Tyler switched to a Brontosaurus-size B3 organ and showed us why CBA's road crew of Billy Ramano, Mike Lynn and Marty Damico hauled it onto the stage in the first place as Tyler dealt out more heaping helpings of funk. Bassist Big Bad John Werner set down his instrument and pounded away on a keybass. At the song's apex, Tyler paused, climbed the bench behind his B3, and snapped a cell phone photo of the crowd.
There were heads bobbing, Kung Fu fighting and dancing of all sorts, there was improvisation and solos by each player and a big ol' jam session featuring members of Dropin Pickup, Jacob Cox from Orlando's Holy Miss Moley and another guitarist, Legacy, all called up on the stage to end the show on a blues and soul note. There were energetically rendered covers of The Black Crows' "Jealous Again" and Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone" (the encore).
The music never stopped. The music never stops.
"We work as hard as we do to give the crowd the best show possible," Tyler said after the show, and he and his band most certainly succeeded on this night.