Words/Photos Wal Reid

There aren’t enough expletive deletives to describe the awesome, sanguine Californian Honeydrops.

Best described as if you were going to a gig with Grayson Hugh, Simply Red or the American Roots sound of Pokey Lafarge on the same bill. The California Honeydrops celebrate their 10th year together with the release of their 7th studio album, this was an afterthought as they tore the roof off Auckland’s Tuning Fork.

Led by powerhouse vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lech Wierzynski, and drawing on diverse musical influences from Bay Area R&B, funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, and New Orleans second-line, the Honeydrops were as energetic as they were colourful on stage, there is a humbleness and honesty to their music, which was refreshing in this social media fuelled industry.

Every bit the seasoned performers, the Honeydrops have a rich and varied pedigree, supporting the likes of Blues legend Bonnie Raitt on her North America release tour—and in the past privileged to support the likes of B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Guy, and Dr. John. These guys are no slouches, as they weaved through their gratifying set list one punter was heard shouting “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You”, Wierzynski remarked; “They want the classics”.

The Honeydrops have come a long way since guitarist and trumpeter Lech Wierzynkski and drummer Ben Malament started busking in an Oakland subway station, but the band has stayed true to that organic, street-level feel. Listening to Lech sing, it can be a surprise that he was born in Warsaw, Poland, and raised by Polish political refugees.

He learned his vocal stylings from contraband American recordings of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong, and later at Oberlin College and on the club circuit in Oakland, California. With the additions of Johnny Bones on tenor sax and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keyboards, and Beau Bradbury on bass, they’ve built a powerful full-band sound to support Wierzynski’s Soulful timbre.

It was an intimate and fun night with the crowd pretty much in ‘party-mode’ dancing their way through most of the set to the delight of the band. There was enough crowd interaction amongst the musical melee, but the real satisfying thing about the concert was the music. The H.C’s are a ‘party’ band, its almost as if by design they can coerce the most staid & stiff concert goer to groove to the cool Jazzy Blues vibe emulating from the stage.

More like a party than a traditional concert, their shows feature extensive off-stage jamming and lots of crowd singing. They don’t make set lists. They want requests. They want crowd involvement, to make people become a part of the whole thing by dancing along, singing, picking the songs and generally “coming out of their shell”. Well, they got that by the bucketful tonight, I only wish they didn’t have to finish so soon.