HOLLYWOOD -- What on earth was an American swing band doing as the middle act on a Latino bill?
The Cherry Poppin' Daddies from Oregon don't speak Spanish, and the show's headliners, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs from Argentina, don't speak English. The opening act Ozo Matli is also a Latino band. But they were all together in Hollywood last week to play the Universal Amphitheater.
It was the end of a nationwide tour that the Daddies crafted to blend the brassy Latino sounds of the headliners with their own updated American swing band sound -- one that incorporates elements of ska, funk, rock, jazz and, yes, Latin rhythms.
Steve Perry of the Daddies was willing to explain the situation, but first he had to steam the wrinkles out of his silk shirts.
Although slick on stage, the singer was shirtless and ambling around his Hollywood hotel room before the show. He found a hand-held steamer to freshen up his stage garb. His task completed, the 34-year-old Perry said that he asked his agent to coax the Cadillacs up to Norte America, with the promise of a slot as the headliner on the two-month-long tour.
"They're huge down there," Perry proclaimed. "They fill football stadiums."
Up here, the Cadillacs are not so well-known, but Perry loves their sound and
thought it would make an interesting pairing with the Daddies. In Hollywood, that meant drawing a crowd that would be about equally split between the alternative-rock fans that listen to the Daddies on KROQ and local Latino youth.
But how would this play in Peoria, so to speak?
The Daddies, who have performed together since 1989, opened the tour in blue-eyed Minneapolis, where the local Latino population is really small, so the crowd was mostly there for the Daddies. But then, they got to Chicago and Miami and New York, and the Latino/Anglo mix began to work.
"Every town has got its Argentines that come with the soccer shirts and the flags to wave around," Perry said. But what was nice to see, he said, was when they danced to the Daddies while they waited for the Cadillacs to come on.
"You can't help tapping your foot when you hear the Daddies," said Amy Meyer, a Daddies fan from Denver. "The jump blues/swing thing is huge in Denver right now. People just love to get dressed up in their skinny ties and their shimmery cocktail dresses, sip martinis and dance the night away." Getting ready for the show is almost as much fun as going.
The Daddies' updating of jump blues and swing is infectious. The eight-piece band features a trumpet, trombone and sax sound complementing a heavy drum and bass rhythm section. Add to that Perry on vocals and Jason Moss on guitar. Think of Tony Bennett snapping his fingers with Keith Moon pounding the drums. Or as Perry phrases it, "I like the term 'power lounge.' "
Moss offered yet another label for the Daddies. "We're a swing band with lots
of Marshall amps," he said.
Perry said he doesn't want the Daddies to get trapped into a single category, although all the media attention they're getting now is centered around, a smooth swing strut with a heavy beat. Besides swing, they do funk, rock, country and jazz as the mood strikes them. "No style is better than another," he said. "They're all equal."
Onstage, the Daddies rock, and they even bring elements of ska and Latin brass into the mix without surrendering either their sense of humor or their modern backbeat.
"Zoot Suit Riot" is the sort of swing tune that either Joe Jackson or the Stray Cats would feel comfortable playing. It's also the title track of their new CD on Mojo Records, which Perry said is a compilation of 10 previously released swing-derived tunes and four new tracks.
The cover art features old cars, fashionably dressed couples dancing and a red heart encased in barbed wire. What's the heart about? Perry said it means having faith in yourself when everything seems lost, or something like that. "The whole thing kind-of came to me in a vision, man," he said in his best surfer dude impression.
Maria Abigail Sandoval of Los Angeles, a fan who wangled her way into the orchestra pit at the Universal Amphitheater, said it was the first time she and her two teenaged friends had seen the Daddies. "Their music makes me want to dance," she shouted over the Frank Sinatra overture that opened the show. "It's the vibrations they send to you."
This last tour was Latino-spiced. After a pair of dates in Hawaii with No Doubt and a week's rest, the Daddies go back on the road with a modern rock flavor.
They're on the bill at the WHFS Washington festival May 16 with Everclear, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Marcy Playground and Crystal Method. Then they're tagging along with Everclear and Marcy Playground for the May 29 Y100 radio festival in Philadelphia and joining the Warped Tour all summer with NOFX, Bad Religion, the Specials and others.