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Courtesy Lisa HueyThe Littlest Man Band's ScottKlopfenstein has a platinum-selling skeleton in his closet—a not-so-littlest band called Reel Big Fish, which still packs 'em in almost 10 years after they started. But, says Klopfenstein, that's okay—Reel Big Fish is taken care of. Aaron Barrett's got it under control. And so every free minute he's not playing "Sell Out" to checkered-Vans-sporting kids in Europe, Klopfenstein's setting up a piano in a Long Beach bar and doing something a little softer than ska-punk.
Started and led by singer/guitarist/piano player Klopfenstein, the Littlest Man Band offers a quiet, composed, often anguished counterpoint to the peppy sounds he's been playing for so long with Reel Big Fish. Though it's tempting to think of their pedigree—think the sharp, swinging horns that float through debut album, Better Book Ends—and call this ska/blues, fellow Fish-er and Littlest Man Band trombonist Dan Reagan is right when he says people are only going to confuse themselves if they think the Littlest Man Band will sound like Reel Big Fish. This is more Ben Folds than the Specials, more piano-bar blues than skankin'. Better Book Ends is ultimately an uplifting musical story for a lovable Charlie Brown type after he misses the football again—only instead of a football, it's a girl, and instead of saying "good grief," Klopfenstein just gets sloshed.
And that's sort of the loose backstory to Better Book Ends. Klopfenstein, who battled and beat a serious drinking problem, describes his transformation as going "from being a really miserable person to all of a sudden realizing there's more to life than being miserable." His inspiration for Littlest Man came after he wrote a song called "Drunk Again" for Reel Big Fish and noticed it was something different. He says: "I wrote that song, and I was like, 'I like soul, I like jazz, I like Tom Waits—why don't I just write stuff more like that?'" So with Waits, Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon and Brian Wilson propping up his heart, Klopfenstein tapped some tried and trusted pals to help flesh out his ideas: Jesse Wilder on guitar and keys, Jake Berrey on bass, Greg Parkin on the skins, and trumpeters Vince Walker and Tony Ortega, all veterans of the fertile Long Beach music scene.
"I picked these guys because they are all people I have grown up with musically," he says. "If I say I want something a little more Randy Newman here, they're like, 'Ah, Randy Newman. Of course.' We read one anothers' minds pretty well."
"It's the music we've always wanted to hear," adds Reagan. "It's got all the elements of what we've grown up liking—we've even got a reggae song now."
The Littlest Man Band with Makeshift Love Affair and the year zero at The Blue Café, 210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH, (562) 983-7111; www.thebluecafe.com. Wed. Call for time and cover. 21+.