My friends in the UK call it a launch party. In the US it's a release party. But wherever it happens, it's a party. This one was thrown to celebrate the release of The Creepy Jingles' new LP, Take Me at My Wordplay. Creative booking, an attentive venue, a great crowd, and heartfelt performances ensured it was a one fans will be talking about for months.
While my party began at 7:00 with a vegan Philly and pretzel babies from Dead Beets Eats that shares a space with Rino. For others it may have begun at 8:20 when Stephonne's backing band, dubbed Gay Rodeo, took the stage. The rodeo features a number of familiar faces including Benjamin Hart on guitar, Miki P (Mikala Petillo) on drums, Ahafia Jerkiewicz-Miles on keyboard, and Spencer Thut on bass. Together the quartet opened with the funky "Sweet Tooth," playing a long guitar-hyped introduction before Stephonne's disembodied vocals came in with "I just wanna have a little fun with you / Do all of the things that you want me to." When the anticipation was rife, Stephonne and his wireless microphone took the stage; he knows how set a scene and to be seen. He's tall, and inches taller in his stiletto-heeled black ankle boots. His bows-in-front thigh highs ended well before his shiny PVC high-rise body suit began. A pink tutu belted the ensemble while a beaded necklace provided the frosting. He's styled exceptionally well. His time in the drag scene has undoubtably honed both his performance and his eye for fashion. His band has put in real effort too – there was glam all over that stage. But this isn't a pantomime. This is a rock band. Sure, it's colored by the sensual grind of R&B and the uplifting spirt of gospel, but black performers like Stephonne have been building that into rock & roll from the very start. The set continued with current single, "The King's Gambit." He introduced the song, explaining that it's about being direct, stating your intentions, and avoiding unnecessary games in love. Later, "Black Coffee Brown Sugar" would get a long introduction about celebrating friends and mentors and those that shape our lives – especially in a gay community that has lost so many of its storytellers. The touching torch song left Stephonne wiping away sweat and tears in equal measure. The band's 40-minute opening set was longer than most, but the packed audience never took their eyes off Stephonne or his band.
The stage was quickly turned over to Sisterbot. This project of Swallowtail's cellist Adee Dancy often materializes as a fourteen-piece orchestra, but on this night, it was only Dancy and a keyboard set to mimic a piano. Dancy begin the night with self-effacing humor, noting that they were happy to play a real "rock and roll" show, but recognized that if Stephonne was the "rock," and The Creepy Jingles the "roll," that left Sisterbot as merely the "and." There may have been some truth to that prediction, as the audience had thinned considerably before a note was played. At 9:15 Sisterbot began the work to recapture the crowd.
With only piano as accompaniment, this version of Sisterbot was direct and emotional with everything laid bare. On the album, with a full band, "Ain't Blowing Over" is a roiling jazz-inflected pop song, but live it was a forceful declaration, punctuated by each hard-pounded chord. The audience felt it, but this wasn't a dour affair. "Ur So Dope" was delivered with a joyful smile, and other songs took the smirk even further developing a strutting cabaret bounce not far from that favored by Dresden Dolls. Dancy's voice is strong and trained, with the manners to apply just the right amount of filagree – be it pitch-perfect slides or husky blues growls. There's no stage too big for that voice, and I suspect few stages too big for their amiable presence. During closer "Into the Moment," Dancy had the entire audience singing the song's "It feels so good to be myself" refrain, adding in inspiration and encouragement from behind the piano between each repetition. There's a lot of healing in Sisterbot's songs and sharing that seems important.
While Sisterbot was able to recall some of Stephonne's crowd, the remainder returned when the (now) five members of The Creepy Jingles began working through their soundcheck. At 10:10, with everything tested, set, and decided, the band began its 70-minute performance.
Both the new album and the set began with punchy rock number "Conundrum & Bass." While what followed was not a song-by-song play-through of the album, it certainly hit the highlights as well as songs from the band's debut EP, and at least one non-album track. The party atmosphere was set by the loose and happy band, but the audience gave that energy back with interest. Most of the songs from the new album were already live favorites, earning cheers of recognition, while older songs got the lubricated audience singing along. The surf of "Circadian Rhythm Guitar" was a call to action for dancers – the goofier the better. I watched as local musicians Nan Turner and Alison Hawkins danced just offstage, showing everyone how it is done.
As always, the band's set was divided between songs where frontwoman Jocelyn Nixin plays guitar and those where she plays keyboards. But the new fifth member, Brent Windler (of Sons of Great Dane and others), shifted that dynamic. Not only did he add backing vocals and additional acoustic and electric guitars to half of the set, but his presence also allowed Nixin one unencumbered turn at the microphone. That's an interesting development. The cramped stage also meant bassist Andrew Woody was evicted to the center of the stage during the keyboard songs. I'd never seen him so joyfully cocky. The remainder of the band played familiar roles: guitarist Travis McKenzie looked dapper in his white bowler and ripped off solos that had the audience hooting and hollering (those leads in driving rocker "Cardinal Cinnabon" are for real!), while drummer Nick Robertson kept the beat steady and his tongue out.
When the band announced its final song, the audience demanded more. Nixin looked back at Robertson like a catcher negotiation with a pitcher. Robertson shook off a few before he found a couple he liked, then Nixin returned to the microphone announcing the band had three more songs. Like any good party, my memory of the end of the night is fuzzy. What were those three songs, and what happened afterwards? I guess maybe you had to be there. I just remember it was a hell of a party.