Dave B & The Hot Shots kept it lively at John Harvard’s Brewery

Dave Birkin handling two saxophones

Dave B & The Hot Shots played a coupe of lively sets at John Harvard’s Brewery in Cambridge, Massachusetts last Saturday night. Lead by saxophonist-lead vocalist Dave Birkin, the four piece made their merry way through familiar blues and R&B standards, their sound traveling well through the spacious venue.

Opening with the swaying Eddie Harris instrumental “Cold Duck Time,” the boys showcased a breezy tenor sax and a jazzy electric guitar melodic line by Mark Shelford. The number blew through the room, creating pleasant memories of when people may have first heard this piece on .

Jangling guitar jive ushered in the old Joe Turner standard “Flip, Flop, & Fly,” a jumping bit of fun as Birkin flavored it with a considerate vocal phrasing. Picking up a second sax, a soprano to accompany the tenor he already had been playing, Birkin treated his audience to dual sax approach, melody and counter melody at once. He also looked really cool playing both horns at once.

That one Joe Turner number wasn’t enough, so Dave B & The Hot Shots played a second tune by the man. “World Of Trouble” found Hot Shots upright bassist Ken Steiner playing a bulbous groove as drummer Richard Malcom pushed it along with a palpable style. Birkin blasted both horns together and it all came together with a hip, brassy aplomb.

Dave B & The Hot Shots lured some dancers to the front of the room with their rollicking oldies standard “I’m Ready, I’m Willing, and I’m able.” Bouncy, sprightly, the band rolled into it with a spirited air, giving their John Harvard’s Brewery audience a jumping, motivational piece to dance to. Birkin’s lively sax phrase was another treat to this number. The snappy groove of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” kept the pace while Birkin narrated the lyrics with a fun sing-talk approach. The band eventually switched things up with a romantic ballad, featuring a sax line full of life and joy.

Mark Shelford, Dave Birkin

One of the biggest highlights was the Dave B interpretation of “Jambalaya.” Handled with extreme care, Birkin’s voice carried most of the melody line until it was time to play his sax line. The rhythm section kept it upbeat and fun while guitarist Shelford ran a bouncy riff through it all. It was a well done piece of musical gumbo.

The remainder of the first set was comprised of tremendous variety. An instrumental was made up of bulbous bass notes that moved with sublte motions, spiraling sax melody, and a series of drum fills and guitar riffs that appropriately punctuated the action packed number. Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” was given a creepy, crawling groove and a mischievous melodic line before Dave B and his Hot Shots went into a jazzy flight of fancy.

While the band is named after leader Dave Birkin, this four piece is without a doubt a quartet in which each player holds up well his own corner of the sound, making each song a fully realized treat for the ears. Dave B & The Hot Shots opened their second set with the James Brown Band instrumental, “The Chicken.” Bass solo spots allowed for chunks of low end finesse and hard bopping drum work too made a strong impression.

Another spoken-sung number, the timeless “Caledonia,” received the Dave B & The Hot Shots treatment. Greasy sax lines, slippery lead guitar work, and the classiest rhythm section in the city that night came together to make this one feel busy and epic. Dual sax playing, again, added a little more tang at the end, a quality that hearkened back to a better time in music, making one feel he was in a earlier era jazz venue.

Richard Malcolm, Ken Steiner

Blues standard “Let The Good Times Roll” got spanked forward by Malcolm’s rolling blues beat, a forward motion that let the other players flavor it with their own colors and tones within this feel good classic. Moving into more footloose and fancy free ensemble work, each player got his own moment to shine. The band soon got a little more funky so Birkin could light up the room with bright, blaring saxophone work which pushed Shelford to step up his own game with inspired, jazzy guitar flashes.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Train Kept A Rollin” were good close out numbers for the band to keep it jumpy and in an oldies format. Dave B & The Hot Shots had, by the end of their second set, transported their audience back into time, a time when music was unpretentious, unadulterated fun, a time when music had soul and could easily inspire one to move onto the dance floor. John Harvard’s Brewery was also an ideal venue to host Dave B & The Hot Shots, it’s wide open space letting the sound breathe, travel, waft its way to the back and to the sides of the room. A comfortable, open area, John Harvard’s Brewery could easily turn up in a movie scene at some point in the not too distant future, if those Hollywood cats who keep coming out here ever happen to stumble into the place.

(Dave B & The Hot Shots will next appear at Pete’s Bar & Grill in Quincy, Massachusetts on May 25th.