T-Bird & the Breaks Continental Club February 23, 2012
It may be an optical illusion, but some kinds of music just sound better when the band looks nice. Sharp suits and simple choreography, like the way guitarists or horn players sometimes rock back and forth to the beat, can go a long way can toward covering for a missed note or spotty rhythm. Especially in soul and R&B.
T-Bird & the Breaks might want to think about that. There was nothing wrong with the way the Austin five-piece sounded Thursday, their first time playing the Houston Continental. There were no missed notes, that we could tell, but for some fundamental reason the fact that they were in street clothes made the hour or so we saw seem a little blasé.
And they do have a good thing going on. On the "thickness" scale of musical density, T-Bird & the Breaks would clock in at about a double D. Most songs were dominated by fat, muscular riffs, and the guitarist made great use of his "Shaft"-like wah-wah effect. Although he would have been about 10 (maybe), 1986 - the year of Prince's "Kiss" and the Fabulous Thunderbirds' "Tuff Enuff" - must have been an especially good year for him.
The sax player tossed off his fair share of tasty, robust tenor licks. T-Bird himself, whose mirror shades made him look a little like he came from the set of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video, turned out to be a pretty agile emcee and a decent hand on the electric piano.
Their material was well-suited to the Breaks' skills, both originals like the Van Morrison-ish "Blackberry Brandy" and several songs from the upcoming Hallelujah Glory Be EP. Toward the end, a song fashioned after the Meters was bottom-heavy enough to rise above mere homage. None of the covers, like Mardi Gras R&B standard "Big Chief" and a Ray Charles double-dip of "What'd I Say" and "Let's Go Get Stoned" embarrassed either the band or the authors.
It was a funky good time, no question. Nevertheless, it's all a little disconcerting when the band looks like they're about to hit up happy hour at Little Woodrow's. Nobody wants to see that.
Presentation matters. Sit up straight. Tuck your shirttail in. Don't talk with food in your mouth.
Turns out your mother was right after all.
Personal Bias: Ray Charles = Yes. Casual Fridays = No.
The Crowd: About 50-70 people, many dressed like the band. And a clutch of women down front who looked more than willing to volunteer for the female-vocalist spot should one become available.
Overheard In the Crowd: Continental bartenders discussing the rodeo cookoff as one distributed Jello shots another had just brought back.
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Random Notebook Dump: "Could be playing a frat party in the early '60s a la Animal House."
See what T-Bird & the Breaks are up to on their Web site.