I have gone to my first and last show until the weather gets warm. January 2, Afro-Cuban rock powerhouse New Primitives returned to their old stomping grounds at the Cabooze to headline a show with a hot local outfit, Bitter Roots, and aces out of L.A., Nino, supporting. I was not going to miss New Prims playing ten minutes away from my crib, especially since the Cabooze is tailor-made for these guys—stage space, acoustics, dance floor, just the perfect place to catch them. I wasn’t going to miss it, but next time they can send a car or I’ll just have to hear about it second hand. It was fah-reezin’ outdoors. Didn’t take but a hop, skip, and a jump to go from my apartment to the Light Rail Transit station and my fingertips was already barking. They warmed up over the short ride to the club, but I’d just as soon not step out in air this frigid again unless I absolutely have to.
How many times has I writ about New Primitives, let me count the ways. So, of course, as I walk in, I’m wondering how to come up with fresh material. Turns out not to be hard. Brian “Snowman” Powers has materialized for the occasion. In the dressing room, there he is, one the nastiest cats to ever breathe life into a saxophone. As the group’s founder Stanley Kipper routinely puts it, “Man, Snow is terrifyin’.” A gregarious bear of a guy, Powers greets with a big smile and a hug. He’s officially a band member, produced the Prims’ first album and is producing the new one, American Nomad—which is taking a long time to finish because new guitarist-singer Joel Schaan has to be added to old tracks, not to mention record new ones of his own contributions. The thing may yet be released in our lifetime, but I’m not taking any bets. Anyway, like I said, Snow is a band member, he just never hardly plays club dates. Too busy being in demand as a sharp-eared producer-engineer and killer sideman—among his clients, he worked on Oleta Adams’s most recent album Let’s Stay Here. Anytime I get a chance to see him with the band is like found money.
I have misjudged the time. Every gig I’ve ever seen New Prims play, they start at 10. Not tonight. I got here about 9:30, thinking it was in time to hang out, warm up and catch the set. Wrong. They’re not scheduled to start until something like quarter to midnight. So, I get to sit through a pair of opening acts I never heard of. It’s a break though. Nino—what they’re doing all the way out here from Los Angeles, in the dead of winter, performing the night’s first set, I couldn’t begin to guess—pass my time splendidly. They lay down a tight groove of sweet, driving rock. Next time Nino is in this neck of the woods, I sure want to know about it. When they get offstage, some of the rest of New Primitives have started to straggle in. Joel Schaan shows up. Bassist Matt “Mateo” Stevens, too. But there’s still a good bit of waiting around to do—if it wasn’t cold as a witch’s heart outside, I’d walk home, down a couple drinks, then saunter on back.
I also would also have missed a fine discovery. My first exposure to Bitter Roots is most enjoyable. They play good old fashioned San Francisco rock, straight from the book of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. I’ve been a lifelong Airplane but have hated, since the day I first heard it, that song “White Rabbit.” Seen the Airplane do it about a half dozen times, a half dozen different ways and could never stand that one number. Until now. Instead of clunky, faux jazz—or whatever Grace Slick thought she was doing when she wrote it—Bitter Roots give it a straightahead treatment that builds a nice head of steam and stays there. They also do a pretty good job on “Somebody To Love.” Impressed with both Nino and Bitter Roots, it occurs to me—I’ve never caught New Prims without a solid opening act. They’re either lucky that way or some smart promoting is going on.
At last, New Primitive anchors Kipper (vocals, timbales) and Chico Perez (congas, vocals) grace the dressing room with their presence. In short order, the band collect and takes the stage. From word one, they are on it. There are faces I don’t recognize sitting in on drums, backup percussion, and second guitar. They fit perfectly. The first three songs are all brand new, so I have no idea who wrote what. They are, however, crowd-rousing joints that put the energy of a freight-train to some sweet chords and fine melodies. And Snow is blowing his brains out. Kipper leads a reggae-ish rendition of the Temptations’ old hit, “Just My Imagination” that gives up nothing to the original. It’s absolutely inspired. “Bring Me Down” is a laid-back, upbeat standout off New Prims’ album New Primitives, written by Snow, that always gets me up on my feet. It’s got an infectious pulse to it and Kipper was born to do the lead vocal—smooth, with fiery passion. Never been in a New Prims audience yet that didn’t just lose it when they break into “Bring Me Down.”
Gotta home. There’s deadlines to meet. It was well worth coming out in even this miserable weather. I just ain’t doing it again, no matter who’s playing how close to the crib. At least, not anytime soon, I ain’t.