By Alex Distefano
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By Nate Jackson
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Jam bands usually suck because their sonic hacky-sacking usually amounts to little more than something for Deadheads to do in the off-season.
Okay, so Delta Nove are a jam band with the run-on songs to prove it—and they're a bunch of white guys playing world beat, to boot, which may explain why they tend to fly under the mainstream critical radar. But fly they do, having just played two shows with Michael Franti's Spearhead, more recently graduating from being an overachieving bar band to headlining clubs on their own. Delta Nove have won the Best Live Band title from the OC Music Awards two years running, and they've released five albums and a slew of singles, but their home is that pure place where band and fan commune and cynical hacks can go back to pondering if Bright Eyes is ever going to be as good as critics want him to be.
Go to a Delta Nove show, and you'll be knee-deep in a bend-over-backwards blend of afro-beat funk and Brazilian riddims from a band with five core members, but whose numbers can swell to include a horn section and dancers. "We've had 25 people onstage before," says singer/guitarist Bobby Easton.
"We want to make people get up and dance," Easton adds, "but we also want to change how people listen to music." He's referring to the band's penchant for improvising and extending their genre-mashing songs. "We don't play the same set twice." Or the same style. Washington go-go grinds up against northeastern Brazilian samba-reggae ("It's not samba, and it's not reggae," he explains), with ska and afro-beat rounding it out to a Silly Putty bulbousness. It's crowd-pleasing almost to a fault, but from a band Easton and percussionist Heath Bennett started, as Easton puts it, "to see what happens when you put Thelonious Monk and Frank Zappa together with Funkadelic," it can be an education—an Ozomatli (with whom Easton has sat in) for the uninitiated.
Easton grew up in Long Beach seeing Sublime play backyard keggers, but he was always drawn to broader listening. "My dad went to Brazil and brought back all these records, and I was hooked." He turned his band mates onto Fela Kuti and such Washington go-go acts as Trouble Funk, whose "Hey Fellas" Delta Nove quote in "Deception" (from their latest disc, The Future Is When?). More recently, Delta Nove covered Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad" for a Boingo tribute album, changing up the lyrics to a lapping lambasting of "Georgie" Bush.
"We're not an overly political band," says Easton, "but the song seemed ripe." The resulting video is a minor YouTube hit, sure, but it's another cog in the Delta Nove machine. In an average day for the band, three members have been substitute teaching (their day gigs), only to skip the after-school snack to record a single at the Signal Hill studio they co-own, the Compound. The track, "Any Given Saturday," is unofficially about the Derby hopeful, but hey, if the horse's owners wanna buy the song, great. When they finish, it's almost midnight, and headlining gigs in Arizona and San Diego await. They've played with P-Funk, but what's Easton's favorite gig? "Mini Kiss," he says immediately. Why? "Midgets playing Kiss songs? Come on, you have to ask?"