ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Walt Disney probably wouldn't have approved of the
number of times Jason "King" Kendall used the f-word onstage.
Performing at Disney World's House of Blues in Orlando, Fla., Kendall -- the lead singer
for the Amazing Crowns -- tried to reach out to the crowd, but found himself frustrated by
the 10-foot-high stage, the huge bouncers and the crowd-control barricade.
"I wish you could see how beautiful you look, each and every one of you f---ers!" he
yelled, stretching his arms in a vain attempt to touch the hands reaching toward him from
the crowd. "I wish I could reach you. You just all look so f---ing great!"
The feeling seemed to be mutual.
Touring with blithe punkabilly band the Reverend Horton Heat, the Amazing Crowns
were playing on Disney property over the weekend, but they were trying not to let that
inhibit them. The Crowns -- a hard-working foursome from the Providence, R.I., area --
have been on the road much of the time since April 1997, continuing to promote their
self-titled debut album. Driving what's been humorously described as "the hardest
working van in show business," the boys have covered the miles with determination,
optimism and sincere good cheer.
"It's been great," bassist Jack Hanlon said, when asked about the band's relentless
schedule. "It's our job. It's what we do."
This was the Crowns' first visit back to the Orlando-St. Petersburg area since they
recruited a new guitar player and were forced to drop the word "Royal" from their name
after a legal tussle with the Los Angeles-based, neo-swing band, Royal Crown Revue.
In Orlando on Nov. 14, it was evident that the Amazing Crowns wanted to let the crowd
know they were still the Crowns, still "Royal to the Loyal" (as their T-shirts say). The
quartet's unique blend of swing, punk, rockabilly, surf and straightforward rock 'n' roll is
best viewed up close and personal, and they were doing their best to make contact with
their fans and encourage dancing.
Kendall lay on his stomach and threw the mic out into the audience for a sing-along. Still,
he and the band seemed frustrated by the physical distance, and the crowd never got
past polite enthusiasm.
The next night, at the ancient and funky State Theater here, there was no barricade.
From the moment Kendall leaped onstage during the Crowns' signature opener, "Shiverin in the
Corner" (RealAudio excerpt), it was clear that this was going to be a different
kind of show, for both the crowd and the band.
Grinning and nodding, Kendall kicked and jumped and threw himself around the stage
as the audience crammed closer to the band and danced as best as it could. Folks
toward the back had room to swing-dance, but those in the front had to make do with a
sort of swingy, stomping mosh.
(RealAudio excerpt), a tribute to country-legend Johnny Cash, started with a deceptively
gentle, countrified bass-and-guitar opening, dropping suddenly into full-tilt, bouncing
honky-tonk for a few minutes, before breaking down into a hardcore, pogo-friendly
free-for-all toward the end.
Things were heating up. The boys already were sweating through their tidy matching
suits, and it was only two songs into the set. The jackets came off; the crowd cheered.
Kendall played the role of the dapper, lady-killing frontman, his deep crooner's voice at
times rocketing to a shriek. New guitarist J.D. Burgess played his hollow-bodied Gretsch
like a madman, working in twangy echoes of Cash, Duane Eddy, Brian Setzer and other
The stand-up bass got slapped around by Hanlon, who, though wielding an instrument
that must outweigh him by a good 50 pounds, played with wild speed and ferocity. He
double- and triple-slapped, he climbed on top of the bass, he swung it over his head --
all for the cheers of the crowd. Judd Williams anchored the antic proceedings from
behind the drums, making the band's abrupt time changes and insanely fast tempos
seem somehow effortless.
"They have so much energy," said 29-year-old Sandra Corr of Orlando, who was
attending her sixth Crowns show. "They're so intense when they play, they really pull you
in. And their interaction with the audience becomes part of the show. You feel like you're
part of what's happening up there."
"Free Bird!" hollered the obligatory voice from the back.
"OK, buddy. ... This one's for your girlfriend!" Kendall responded, before the count-off to
"If He Can't (Then I Can)," which he customized for the evening into "If He Can't, Then
Jack Can," to the apparent chagrin of the blushing bass-player.
Tearing through songs such as "1965 GTO"
(RealAudio excerpt) and "The Ride" (a swingy, stomping anthem about being thrown into
the back of a cop car), they also pulled out a few newer pieces, including a heartfelt
Christmas tune apparently called "One More Christmas (to Put Up With Your Sorry Ass)."
"Of course, we have no homes, no pets, and no girlfriends," Hanlon said. "But ... there's
rock 'n' roll for ya. That's what it's about."
The crowd on Sunday night surely would have agreed, loyal as ever.