What use is a night out if it doesn’t wipe the frown off a cranky face and replace it with an ear-to-ear shit-eating grin?
The California Honeydrops is a band that’s found a winning recipe of jazz, funk, and soul, and for the better part of 15 years, members of this San Francisco Bay Area outfit have been serving up good times that could stoke the heart of the most forlorn ticketholder.
This past Sunday night in DC, the Honeydrops heavily dosed 9:30 Club with their trusted, piping-hot spiritual elixir, pouring it on for two incredible sets and a lengthy encore to close out an enlivened, glowing celebration.
Led by skilled and charismatic vocalist, trumpeter, and guitarist Lech Wierzynski and now eight men strong in its current touring form, this well-informed squad showed itself to be a world-class entity, one with a knack for hosting the spontaneous party and blaring songs that pay tribute to a long and varied list of influences, at 9:30 Club on Oct. 29.
Listen to the new single from The California Honeydrops, “Bye Bye Baby,” via Spotify:
“So, what do you want to hear tonight?” Wierzynski asked the audience, having loosened it up with his doting, casual approach. “What was that over there? ‘Only Home I’ve Ever Known’? Let’s do it.”
Treating the venue like a gathering of close friends, Lech used his wonderful voice and his multi-instrumental abilities as this increasingly popular band impressed and charmed across more than three hours of music.
The Honeydrops formed back in 2007 with Wierzynski and percussionist Ben Malament, a fellow Oberlin College alum who’d join him to busk at rapid transit stations before they eventually put out a self-made album that prominently utilized the tub bass and DIY recording methods. After being discovered by and touring with Bonnie Raitt and now a staple at annual events like DelFest, the group is known far and wide for revitalizing retro soul and R&B in fantastic contemporary fashion.
It’s a squad that’s grown to amplify its sound and keep stirring the pot, now with eight albums to its name all released on Tubtone Records. The lineup features longtime saxophonist and clarinetist Yanos “Johnny Bones” Lustig (who’s been on every album with Lech and Ben) as well as veteran keyboardist Lorenzo Loera and bassist Beau Bradbury, along with percussionist Scott Messersmith, trombonist Oliver Tuttle, and tuba and trombone player Miles Lyons.
As part of what is his own remarkable story, Lech was born in Poland but has some local ties, as he lived in the DC area for a stint. But he grew up mostly in Chicago before attending Oberlin, where he was taught by respected scholars and musicians and studied ethnomusicology.
But each member brings a world of knowledge to the fold — Malament, for example, studied New Orleans and West African drumming — and the collective, undying interest in music of all forms boils into incredible live performances that the bandmates themselves seem to cherish as sacred experiences.
Listen to The California Honeydrops’ 2022 studio album, Soft Spot, via Spotify:
The Honeydrops were delightfully engaging as they rolled through two rewarding sets, with most of the songs pulled from the band’s catalogue, along with some extra-sweet covers and what sounded like some new tracks, too.
Fans enjoyed a couple exciting drop-ins from local luminary and educator Gordon Jones (Black Masala), and as the bandmates would move about and change instruments, attendees heard favorites like “All Day, All Night” from 2013’s Like You Mean It, “Honey and Butter” from 2022’s Soft Spot, and “In My Baby’s Arms” from 2018’s amazing double LP, Call It Home.
With an invincibility drawn from the positive source of their music, The California Honeydrops sparkle and simmer on any stage. But this past weekend, at one of the most storied spots in the nation’s capital, Wierzynski and this crew of talented artists dazzled with an uncommon vitality and magnetism.
“Thanks for making this dream come true,” Lech told those in the room. “I used to come to a lot of shows here as a kid, so it’s all coming full circle.”
Tulsa Time (Danny Flowers)
Here Comes Love
Only Home I’ve Ever Known
Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You
I Miss You Baby
Like This, Like That
Just One More
Dig A Little Deeper In The Well
All Day, All Night
Honey and Butter
In My Baby’s Arms
Sit Down On It
Bloodshot Eyes (Wynonie Harris)
Ripple (Grateful Dead)