Live: Skerik & Friends at Hurricane Bar & Grill, January 15

Skerik & Friends
Hurricane Bar & Grill, Delray Beach
January 15, 2011

Better than:
The Dead Kennedys and Kenny G at any point in their careers.

While you might think that an excursion to Jamaica and Haiti would be a low-key vacation, the return of Jam Cruise patrons on Saturday instigated epic stories of what a five-day, nonstop music marathon is like. A mandatory day or two of rest is suggested, and most of the artists coming off the boat hit the road home or take advantage of an opportunity to kick back in South Florida.

Eccentric saxophonist extraordinaire Erik "Skerik" Walton (keys/Garage A Tois) and his friends Mike Dillon (drums/Les Claypool) and Brad Houser (bass/Critters Buggin) are not most artists by any measure. They packed up their gear and took off for a show on the west coast of Florida the same day they came back to port in Fort Lauderdale.

After tearing up the Crow Bar in Tampa, they shot back across the state for another gig at Hurricane in Delray Beach last night. As part of the Brotherly Love Productions "Rock Out With Your Cookout" concert series, this would be the second time in six months that the Dead Kenny G's (the trio's usual booking name) would bring their spectacle to the Sunday-night residency.   

Showing no signs of fatigue, the capricious threesome occupied the snug stage of the dive bar for a last-chance performance with excited locals and Jam Cruise stragglers. The first set was disjointed, but in the world of Skerik and his cohorts, that would be considered positive feedback.

Nods to the more reputable half of the band's clever nomenclature came from covers of punk icons the Dead Kennedys. This homage to the old school riled up the crowd of neohippies between blends of punk-jazz originals. Dillon's efforts at emulating Jello Biafra's lyrical presentation on "Kill the Poor" kept the same tone during cuts like "The Black Death" from their album Operation Long Leash.

The influences are apparent, but the presentation is unique. Each member displays overt music talent, and while the gimmick of discrediting smooth jazz is humorous, the real appeal of this outfit comes from the execution of the mockery. To put it bluntly, the three-man auditory assassins see Kenny G's music as the enemy, and they must destroy it by playing hard, heavy, and welcomed psychedelic song selections.

In the spirit of collaboration that is a central theme to Jam Cruise, the boys brought Adam Smirnoff and Erick Coomes of the band Lettuce to sit in for the first half of the second set. With Smirnoff on guitar and Coomes on bass, Houser went to work on his baritone saxophone while Skerik and Dillon held down lead and rhythm.


The funk influence from the Lettuce boys manifested into a deep, extended improvisational jam that found its start in a spaced-out, slow ambient groove that quickly built into a signature tenor-sax solo from Skerik. Houser, now free of his four-string duties, flexed his baritone-sax skill set and met Skerik in the middle of the solo for a series of harmonization that danced around each other for a measure and then met up in the next. It was a truly special moment to see these guys keep their own styles but somehow create a sound that melded the two different approaches.

The second jam segment with the friends of Skerik & Friends found its genesis in bare-bones drumming and Coomes laying down an eerie, Chris Wood-style bass line. This time, the makeshift quintet let Smirnoff take the reins, and he worked out a spooky guitar solo.

To wrap up the sit-ins, Dillon cued up his rapping alter ego, MC Silver Ice. Coomes passed off the bass and took over on the drum pad while the rest of the band created a hip-hop/jazz hybrid beat. With a flow akin to a Beastie Boy and lyrics reminiscent of late-'80s gangster rap, the medley was surprisingly well-done and showed that the stylistic prowess boasted by these guys is limitless.

The remainder of the show had the threesome back in control. Skerik put his sax down only to play keyboard, and at one point, he was playing both at the same time, the real interesting part being that he used pedals to make his sax sound like a distorted guitar and the piano filter he triggered reflected that of a dirty saxophone. In effect, he was harmonizing with himself.

The crowd showed some love and were rewarded with tracks from the debut album, Bewildered Herd: "Jake Brakin," "I'm Your Manager, I'm Your Pimp," and a "Yeah Cat" encore that went from free form jazz to a blow-out funk dance party to end the night.               

Critic's Notebook

The crowd: The Brotherly Love Productions family of music fanatics, Jam Cruisers, and curious Atlantic Avenue barhoppers.

Random detail: A Jam Cruise poster, donated by the Dead Kenny G's and signed by every artist on the boat, sold during the show for $300 as part of a silent auction to raise money for the charity organization Hope for Harrison.

Overheard in the crowd: Fan: "Play Metallica!" Mike Dillon: "No, Metallica sucks!"

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Adam E. Smith