Indigo Swing around the Bay area


Dave Smaldone came back from California with Indigo Swing's CD last year or so. The music was pretty good so I ordered my own copy off their website and I've been playing it in my car ever since. It's been my main music while out in California on business so I had to try to catch their act while I was in the area. They were playing at the Tavern Grill in Burlingame, just south of San Francisco airport last night. Johnny Boyd, the lead singer, invited me to their gig at the Hi-Ball Lounge in downtown San Francisco so I got to listen to them twice in the same week!

The Tavern Grill

The Tavern Grill is located at 1448 Burlingame Avenue, in Burlingame, California. This is a combination restaurant/bar with a friendly atmosphere. It's a little bigger than Harper's Ferry in Boston but much nicer and cleaner. There were smokers in the bar area, but they weren't intolerable. According to the flyers, there is music most nights, with a different theme each night of the week. Tuesday night is Swing night, with Indigo Swing playing every couple of weeks. Other nights might include R&B, Rock, etc. The place is somewhat dark, though; I prefer to be able to see what I'm eating so that's a minus there. There was plenty of on-street parking.

The band was suppose to start playing at 9:30 pm so I decided to go for dinner around 8 pm or so, in order to be there when the band started playing. As I walked in, the bar's sound system was cranking out Louis Jordan's Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens; man, this is my kind of place! I spotted creme brulee on the menu and figured that any place that had my favorite desert had to be pretty good. I ended up ordering the Mahi Mahi special. The dish didn't appear to have that much fish on it, but I was full after I finished it so I guess it was just about enough food. The Mahi Mahi was excellent; the creme brulee was even better. The waitress, with with her South African accent, provided excellent service and didn't appear to be rushing to have the tab paid; I think she was perfectly happy to have me order (alternately) coffee and wine while the band was playing. The restaurant side of the business appeared to die down at 9:30 when the band started playing.

If you don't want to hang out on the floor in the bar (with the smoke), you can go upstairs to another room with an open view of the bar area. You have a clear view of the band playing downstairs without the smokers around. I can't believe that most bars in the San Francisco area don't have Beringer's as their house white zinfandel wine since they're so close to Napa Valley. Okay, that was their second minus.

From route 101, take the Peninsula Avenue exit (the last San Mateo exit before Burlingame) and go west on Peninsula. After about 1/4 or 1/2 mile, take a right onto California (at the light). Go 2 or 3 lights (I think it's 3), take a left onto Burlingame. The Tavern Grill is a few blocks up on the right. 415-344-5692

The Hi-Ball Lounge

I wasn't sure what to expect from this place since I have my ideas of what a "lounge" was suppose to be. The Hi-Ball Lounge is located in San Francisco's version of the Combat Zone, except that in San Francisco, it's still all there. The entire area is situated right outside Chinatown at 473 Broadway Street, between Kearney and Montgomery. There are various exotic dance "establishments" on both sides of the Lounge so I left my friend outside while I checked inside to make sure I would want to bring my friend in.

We went in.

The Hi-Ball Lounge is, as I said, is stuck between some very obvious strip clubs and it looks very out of place. Inside it is a small dark club with a stage against the far wall. It looks like the kind of place that lets small local bands play where they wait to be discovered. If you remember the last scene in the movie Mambo Kings, you'll get the idea of the kind of place I'm talking about. There's a bar near the front and there is a cover charge to get in. Usually it's between $2 and $5; that tells you how big Indigo Swing is since the cover tonight was $6. There are booths along the left wall and small tables and chairs scattered around the rest of the room. There's a small dance floor cleared out just in front of the stage.

Swing music could be heard as we walked in and some couples were doing their Lindy thing. The doors opened at 7, but the band came on around 10 pm. I suggest going in around 9 so you won't have to spend the entire time drinking.

With a band as good as Indigo Swing, dancers filled the small dance floor (6 couples safely) and started moving into the aisles. The club should probably replace the booths with the small tables and chairs, and they should move some of the tables further back from the stage to accomodate more dancers. The left wall is masonry and probably should be covered to minimize the echoes.

I suggest parking at the garage at the intersection of Stockton and Bush Streets. It's a few blocks to the Hi-Ball Lounge but there's absolutely no parking around that area. Save yourself the hassle.

...and then, there was the band!

I wanted to check out Indigo Swing because I liked their CD and I was in the Bay area. I had no idea what they would be like away from the recording studio.

What did I think?

In one word: wow!

These guys are even better live!

The first thing I noticed were the old fashioned styled microphones and the string bass (in the front!) and the half-height piano. No electric bass and no keyboard? Interesting. They started out at a low volume so they wouldn't disturb the restaurant patrons, but they felt like a lake of water straining and pushing against a dam to release their energy. From the first note at 9 pm to their last chord at 12:15 am, they were *hot*. This is the kind of band that swing dancers dream of to inspire them to dance.

First you notice that your toes are tapping to the beat. Next, you're snapping your fingers on each down beat. All of a sudden you're fighting the urge to jump up and start dancing! (which would look pretty damn silly if you were alone). This band is absolutely great.

Mind you, there really isn't any room to dance at the Tavern Grill. You could maybe have one or two couples dancing if they kept it tight. Did that affect the band? No way. If you closed your eyes while they played, you couldn't tell if they were playing for a small bar or if they were playing for a dance hall of 500 wild and crazy swing dancers; they played with the same high level of energy and intensity.

What's the best part? This is a *Swing* band. No Rock and Roll, No R&B, no West Coast Swing music to please the masses, no foxtrot or ballroom stuff, No compromises!. They don't need any other kind of music to get gigs; this is a pure swing band and that's all they need to get their jobs. (Roger Weiss would be happy. :^)) In any crowd, they would incite people to dance. This doesn't get any better. Wait! It does. Johnny, the lead singer, told me that he didn't know how much longer they'd be playing at the Tavern Grill because there's no room to dance. They want dancers! He told me about their gig at the Hi Ball Lounge in San Francisco two nights later; he suggested that I go there to see how they do for dancers. I've been told in the past that some bands can either play for themselves or they can play for dancers; they typically can't do both. This band lives off the energy of the dancers and it drives them to play even better.

This is the coolest band I've heard in a long time, if not ever, and I hope someone brings them in for a dance in Boston. They're working on their second CD now and I heard them play stuff that wasn't on their first CD so their second one is bound to be as good or better.

...and at the Hi-Ball Lounge?

You'd think that I'd be bored now that I already heard them. Nope. It was different place in a different place (heh-heh!). The Hi-Ball Lounge had a small, cosier atmosphere that you'd expect to find alot of minor acts waiting for their big break. Indigo Swing is already a big deal and people came out for it. The sound engineer added some reverb so they sounded like they were playing in a huge hall instead of a tiny bar. And people danced. They were crowded on the dance floor so they started overflowing into the aisles.

The crowd was definitely there to see Indigo Swing. Many of the dancers showed up in their "vintage swing era" suits and clothes just for their night out on the town. They knew who was playing that night.

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

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