“You can’t win ’em all,” yes, so we’ve been told. But it’s still painful on the occasions when bands that traveled from afar get less than the appreciation they deserve. Granted, even when there aren’t many people here, those that are always make their graciousness felt. Arriving full of optimism from the Bay Area, High Beamz’ last appearance on Mardi Gras Tuesday was a disappointment. It wasn’t their fault as Nevada City was a ghost town that night, but it still stung. Their first time here last year wasn’t exactly gangbusters either. If the third time was to be the charm, Friday the 13th was as good an occasion as any.
Guitarist Chris Zanardi is a virtuoso on his instrument with a rare command of jazz, funk, rock and blues modalities. For whatever reason, High Beamz is a band with the lineup constantly in flux. Each time he has been to the Crazy Horse, Zanardi has been the only constant. While his music is always dazzling from a technical standpoint, it wasn’t necessarily accessible for the average listener. If you were seeing it in a jazz club, you’d be blown away. The typical Crazy Horse crowd craves more danceability. This time around it all crystallized with a lineup equipped to play the sort of music appealing to a wide cross section of fans.
High Beamz has been all instrumental in the past. The biggest difference was the inclusion of a lead singer. Kim Kenny is a powerhouse, possessing a dynamic vocal range. Not only that, but her heart-centered style injected each song with an overflowing volume of soul. A highlight came in the middle of the second set as she belted out a version of “The Weight” which brought the house down. Nothing she sang existed in the realm of ordinary.
The other wild card was the band’s new bassist, George Lacson. The dude could do it all from navigating the jazz labyrinths of “Jan Jan” or “Jean Pierre” to plunking out the liquid funk. On top of that, he emanated a super cool vibe aided by his newsboy cap and alpha stance. It was far from a mainstream choice to close the show with the Wayne Shorter classic, “Footprints,” but he elevated it into uncharted funk terrain. One could tell he was a true student of his instrument who had processed the headiest influences into his own distinct style. Zanardi should do anything possible to keep this cat in his band.
Tasked with the ever important assignment of holding down the beat, drummer Erin Cassidy is a guy who brings unfettered joy to his craft. One can’t help but feel it themselves when you see him beaming at his bandmates like the cat who ate the canary. He’s played the Crazy Horse with two other bands – Lonesome Locomotive and Stu Allen’s Mars Hotel – but this time he was clearly tapped in to the groove like never before. It was a treat to hear a number of songs off the brand new High Beamz album, Be Nice or Go Home. All of them claimed a juicy spot in the repertoire, showing endless potential in the days to come.
Zanardi has always been a true professional, never showing the slightest hint of disappointment in the past when crowds didn’t manifest. Regardless of any outside circumstances, he gives his all and remains upbeat. Team Crazy Horse was utterly ecstatic to see him get the love and recognition he deserves. He’s one of those people who was born to play guitar and you can’t help but be amazed with his stream of creative consciousness. There was a sexy vibe in the air that night as all the bodies on the dance floor appeared to move symbiotically. When it’s all happening, that connection between band and audience is a beautiful thing to behold.