Mardi Gras Sunday in Nevada City is one of the most anticipated days of the year. Starting with a street fair, leading into a parade and culminating in free-for-all revelry, it’s the embodiment of our town’s celebratory spirit. This year’s event was especially festive as it was the first in awhile with warm, dry weather. After the hour-long parade, everyone continued the party in the streets or made their way to one of the nearby watering holes. Commercial Street is kind of the epicenter of the shenanigans, so naturally the Crazy Horse serves as a hub for people to congregate. Chef Carol’s famous gumbo is sold out of the front window, hurricane cocktails are flowing and it’s a day when people of all ages can bask in the holiday spirit together. Plus, you can count on a spontaneous drum circle sparking up just outside the front door.
February 15 was the third Mardi Gras since the Crazy Horse reopened and the occasion has been synonymous with the free concert which starts around 4pm. This year we welcomed an underground talent from San Francisco – The Jeremy Jones Band. Just listening to a few of their tracks online was enough to know they would be a great fit. However, it’s impossible to imagine the full scope of what any band can do until you see them live. Originally hailing from New Orleans, Jones has Mardi Gras in his blood and knew exactly what the situation called for. Donning a gold, purple and green sequined bow tie, feathered top hat and beads, he definitely looked the part. Opening the show with the Funky Meters’ quintessential anthem, “Cissy Strut,” the portal linking Nevada City to the Crescent City opened even wider.
While the band sounded tight and energetic from the get-go, there wasn’t a sense of instant awe. It was a gradual awakening which unfolded as the show gained momentum. Things began to heat up in the second set. Continuing the Meters trend, they opened with “Funky Miracle.” As far as our perceptions go, it was during CCR’s “Born on the Bayou” when the band fully caught fire. Joined by local harmonica sensation, Scott Hickman, the song pulsated and swelled with vim and vigor. One didn’t need to be a musical savant to notice that this tall, lanky fellow wielding the hollow-body Gibson was in possession of some breathtaking chops.
It’s one thing just to be a badass guitarist, a whole other to understand what it takes to be a bandleader. Jones has what one might consider 360-degree vision in scanning the musical landscape around him and knowing where to go next. The way in which he structures his solos is a thing of beauty. The band’s music is inherently fast-paced with many of the songs seemingly delivered at time-and-a-half. This makes his patience even more uncanny as he lets each passage breathe. The climaxes come in waves as the journey is more important than the destination.
Other than the abilities of the frontman, the first thing one notices when seeing the Jeremy Jones Band is the presence of a female drummer. This rare site is extremely welcome. Anna Cucciardo exudes passion for her craft. She hits with unfettered gusto while managing the necessary finesse. Playing with the bounce of a jazz drummer, it’s almost like she’s dancing behind her kit. Her perma-grin and interactions with her bandmates make her a lot more engaging and lovable than the average drummer.
In a band with a star guitarist/singer, it’s no small feat for the other members to rise beyond the shadows. The three people not named Jeremy Jones are all so good at what they do, the band is worthy of a more egalitarian moniker. Ryan Hickey is a magician on the keyboards. Watching him for just a minute you realize how lucky Jones is to have him in his band. He is eminently tasteful, always aware of the exact accompaniment any given part calls for. The guy is uber-calm, like he’s been doing this since he was three. The melodic interchange between he and Jones makes them ideal foils.
You never would have known that Swen Hendrickson was playing just his third gig with the band. He nailed the role of the quiet, ultra-focused bassist who makes things look way easier than they are. Unflinching in the eye of the storm as the improvisation swirled around him, you could see it all happening for him in slow motion. Never showy but relentlessly captivating, he caressed his Fender Bass like a longtime lover. The white boa draped on the tip of the neck added to his cool factor.
Completing the theme of opening sets with Meters’ tunes, the final frame launched with “Look-a-Py-Py.” It may sound like the band only played covers, and that certainly was the emphasis, but there were a handful of originals mixed in as well. We only saw the tip of the iceberg, but Jones’ songwriting left us yearning for more. He has cleverly coined his sound as “swampedelic.” Just because his style leans in this direction doesn’t mean his vocal range is limited to a bayou growl. His voice is actually really sweet and makes you want to believe whatever he happens to be expressing. Sort of hovering in the middle of the register, it gives his repertoire a lot of versatility.
For the second show in a row, the Crazy Horse was treated to a cover of “After Midnight.” Unlike most other bands, the Jones gang took the more challenging, fast tempo approach, a la Eric Clapton. Speaking of Slowhand, Jones sounds a bit like him at his creamy, freewheeling best. During the first set, Jones hinted at his appreciation for Phish with a spritely take on “Get Back on the Train.” Providing the ultimate exclamation mark on the whole Mardi Gras experience, the band ripped into a turbo-charged version of “Gotta Jibboo.” We can assure you this left any recent attempt by Phish in its wake. The dance floor reached the peak of the day as those with any remaining energy let it fly.
The four musicians tuned in to the group mind, listening to each other intently and honoring respective space. Jones completely reinvented the song, steering the band through two different jam sections. It was pure stream of consciousness. It was barely comprehensible that the actions observed on stage were responsible for all the sound emerging from the speakers. We’ve been blessed with so many phenomenal guitarists at the Crazy Horse, but we have to anoint Jeremy Jones as the one with perhaps the highest ceiling. He’s got the fundamentals wired along with an arsenal of tricks up his sleeve. It’s apparent he has processed a plethora of influences into a signature style. Falling in love with a band the first time you see them is one of the greatest feelings in the world.