Is bigger better? When it comes to televisions, bank accounts and certain body parts, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But what about rock bands? Does a 10-piece trump a quartet by virtue of its size?
ï¿½When theyï¿½re good, big bands can be amazingï¿½but sometimes they just make a bunch of noise,ï¿½ says Tim Mays, owner of The Casbah, who cites a small stage space and limited channels on sound boards as potential problems.
ï¿½We are a sound personï¿½s nightmare,ï¿½ agrees Rafter Roberts, whoï¿½s enlisted 10-plus members to play in The Rafter Band. ï¿½At places like Scolariï¿½s Office and the Tower Bar, where you have to run your own PA mix, I have to get there at least an hour and a half before we play to start setting up.ï¿½
Though local bands like B-Side Players and Red Pony Clock have been kicking down the large sound for years, three new-ish bandsï¿½The Rafter Band, Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects and ï¿½Society!ï¿½have jumped on the big-band wagon recently. Itï¿½s enough to call it a trend.
ï¿½I think that itï¿½s the era of the big party band in San Diegoï¿½the era of the good-time, weird rock show,ï¿½ says Roberts, who cites Red Pony Clock as his inspiration.
One of the biggest bands Mays recalls gracing his clubï¿½s stage is Brooklynï¿½s Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, which travels with at least 14 members. He also mentions last summerï¿½s appearance by San Franciscoï¿½s Extra-Action Marching Band, whose lineup boasts more than 30 members.
The difference between these two bands boils down to skills versus spectacle. For Antibalas, the musicians funk it up with contrapuntal layers of rhythm. Every horn player and percussionist hits every note. For Extra-Action, a descendent of San Diegoï¿½s Crash Worship (who were also big on big), all those band members are the musical equivalent of blingï¿½eye and ear candy to make up for questionable musical chops.
ï¿½[By] having 10 people in our band, weï¿½re able to layer tons and tons of different melodies, which hopefully complement each other,ï¿½ says Gerry Saucedo, bassist-vocalist for Red Pony Clock, which brings 10 or 11 musicians to every show. But itï¿½s also ï¿½easy to get carried away, to the point where you donï¿½t know which melody to listen to. But I think thatï¿½s part of the fun.
"Also, getting everyone together for practice can become quite the chore."
"It would be easier if I played a tyrant role and told everyone what to do," says Joey Guevara, frontman for ï¿½Society!, a white-boy Afrobeat band that currently has nine members. "But I want to try to keep it so people can express themselves. I like keeping everyone happy and respecting everyoneï¿½s opinion."
Yet some have questioned whether Guevera should play potentate. Nobody doubts his abilities; heï¿½s played a primary role in top local bands like Jejune, Lovelight Shine and Lady Dottie & The Diamonds. But live, ï¿½Society! can sound like mud seeping out of the speakers. The backup singers and painted faces and tribal processions havenï¿½t yet taken ï¿½Society! from spectacle to spectacular.
The big-band experience is "more of a spectacleï¿½seeing so many people crammed onto one stage, and sometimes even blending into the audience," says Saucedo. "I think it makes the audience feel more involved, almost like theyï¿½re part of the band."
Paulo Zappoli, aka Pall Jenkins of Black Heart Procession and Three Mile Pilot, launched a solo project last year called Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects. His live band has since grown to 10 people.
On stage, they nail it. From the rock-band staples (guitar, keys) to the four-person horn section, every band member is in sync. Their skills back up the spectacle.
Even so, Zappoli rattles off a number of challenges to playing with such a large group.
"On average, band members take home maybe $20 a show and get one or two drink tickets. The other night we played the Honey Bee Hive and they gave us three guest-list spots and four drink ticketsï¿½for 10 people!"
Taking the band on the road is also an issue. Zappoli says heï¿½ll have to shed a few members when touring. But he says the band doesnï¿½t mind any of these inconveniences: "I count on people being cool and doing it because they love the music."
As for Saucedo, he's not interested in cutting members. "I've only ever played in larger bands," he says. "I guess if the band-member count isn't in the double digits, I want nothing to do with it."
Troy Johnson contributed to this story.
Here's where you can see these big-ass bands for yourself:
April 20 @ the Belly Up
Red Pony Clock
May 2 @ The Casbah
April 12 @ The Casbah
April 27 @ The Ken Club
The Rafter Band
No upcoming shows
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