When The ColourSound plays Arlene’s Grocery in New York City on Friday, July 20, you can bet there will plenty of beautiful women shaking it up and down, drinking, dancing, and talking loudly during one of lead singer Doug Batt’s exquisite and idiosyncratic interpretations— from Leonard Cohen to Britney Spears— as they flirt their way through the evening. Girls may just want to have fun and all but as long as they burst into wild applause at each song’s end, all is right with the world.
That’s okay with the members of The ColourSound. Batt may be a high school English teacher by day but at night he transmogrifies into the kind of singer whose vocal acrobatics walk without a net like that guy who traversed Niagara Falls on a high wire. He’ll sing Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” yet turn around and beautifully tackle material from such esoteric sources as Muse, Kings Of Leon, Weezer, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Cee Lo, Postal Service, Keane, Death Cab For Cutie, Oasis, David Bowie and Animal Kingdom.
Lead guitarist Sean Hieter has a psychedelic circus of effects at his foot and on July 20, will be accompanied by guest lead guitarist Erik Slemon. Bassist Leni also has an arsenal at his disposal. Like some musical mad scientist, he also plinks and plunks from a mini keyboard to provide color and ambiance during many of The ColourSound’s creative originals that mostly veer into Britpop-type stylizations. Original drummer Pat Wilson is back and will no doubt provide the bombastic big beat that gets the girls on their feet.
The fashion aspect comes into play because Hieter works for designer Robert Graham. The Beach Boys were outfitted all in Robert Graham on their recent Grammy appearance. An agreement between Major League Baseball and the designer has resulted in team shirts, which feature the RG DNA of wildly colorful collars and cuffs with each team’s logo embroidered into the fabric. On the back is an avant-garde sketch drawing of a batter taking a swing (at least on my Philadelphia Phillies button-down beauty). “Knowledge, Wisdom & Truth” is a phrase that runs down the arm of some of my other RG dress shirts. I told my wife I want to be buried in one. The ColourSound’s original visual aesthetic was a military-meets-London’s Carnaby Street mid-‘60s mod look. You’d think they were Brits but they’re half Pennsylvanians and half New Yorkers. (Leni’s a stock broker and Wilson’s an entrepreneur).
This was the scene at a previous gig by The ColourSound. I sit in the back marveling at how their originals have such immediacy and ear-candy hooks that it’s like you know them but you really don’t. I love it when Batt takes Robin Gibb’s almost inhuman vocal on the pre-disco Bee Gees early hit “I Started A Joke” and sings the hell out of it. I saunter over to two girls who I always seem to see at ColourSound gigs. “They have a sophisticated fashion sense and always look presentable,” gushes Matilda, one of the regulars. Another regular, Grunhilda, likes to dance and is not opposed to dancing with strangers on a moment’s notice. Both women dress like there’s no tomorrow. With an echo of Wilson Pickett singing “you’re lookin’ good, so goood,” I go up to one of them and ask them to dance. Well, I don’t really ask, I sorta sidle up to the both of them and insinuate myself between the two. Matilda and Grunhilda accept this as totally natural and continue to dance with each other as I go through my series of moves, the same moves that won me a few dance contests at the Newark YMHA in 1965—a combination of the Popeye, the Frug, the Monkey, the Tighten-Up, the Swim, the Jerk and the Fly (I refrain from doing the Twist). Two dances later, I am accosted by an extremely glamorous woman who whispers in my ear that she’s 71 and knows how to have a good time on the dance floor. She’s right. The old gal can dance. And she’s a good sport, a fun soul and we immediately cut a rug, as the antiquated expression goes. After the dance, we exchange pleasantries and she goes back to her friend who’s 81 and this tired journalist goes back to nursing his Long Island Iced Tea feeling older than my 61. Meanwhile, Grunhilda and Matilda are now dancing with some boys who appear to be 21.
And that’s just it when it comes to The ColourSound. Sure, there are plenty of female 30-something model types just waiting for me or you to ask them to dance. But the plethora of participation, the soaring good vibes that coat the room with an anything-goes mentality, creates an ambiance of neighborly affection. Some bands melt into the woodwork while we watch sports on big TVs. The ColourSound dominates the environment and moves its many fans into acceptance—acceptance of drink, laughs, loud talk, dance and the art of the flirt.
Excuse me, but I want to go find that filled-with-life 71-year-old again.