The Handsomes

Y’know, I hate to say it, but I wasn’t expecting much from these guys when I first saw ’em. I walked into a club packed wall-to-wall with over-dyed bimbos and beefy guys who looked like they were trying really hard to ignore the fact that they were edging into middle age, saw four clean-cut guys getting up on the stage, and groaned: “Oh, great — another fratboy rock band…”

Then they started playing. I was still skeptical at first, not sure what the hell was going on, but as the Handsomes ripped through three or four funky, soulful jams without breaking a sweat, it started to dawn on me: these guys are really fucking good. I mean, really. The singer (Jordon Blackwell) danced like a maniac and made it look somehow cool, the blond guy on the guitar (David Nachtigall) could play a hell of a lot better than any guitarist I’ve seen in a long time, and…”hey, don’t I know that big guy playing drums from somewhere? He looks really familiar — and come to think of it, so does the singer. Weird…” The next song in, and the singer blazed without missing a beat into the most spot-on Jamaican dancehall toasting I’ve ever heard (well, outside of actual Jamaican dancehall artists, anyway); it was incredible. My jaw hit the floor, and right then I realized who these guys (three of the four of ’em, anyway) were.

Yep, apparently I’m the last to know that way-back-when Houstonian ska heroes The Mod Squad have staggered somewhat back to life. That’s why Blackwell’s wild stage antics seemed so familiar — I’d seen he, Nachtigall, and drummer Patrick Kelly play many times back in the day (bassist Ben Stark was in other bands back then, apparently, but I’m not sure which ones), both with the still-in-college Mod Squad and Blackwell and Nachtigall’s successor band, Half Loaded (I never got to see Kelly’s, Sound Patrol). Once Half Loaded and Sound Patrol faded into the mists of Houston music history, I pretty much forgot about ’em, figuring they were doing that thing nearly every H-town band does and moving on with their “real” lives. And really, ten years or so on, that’s exactly what they’ve done. They’re all teachers or lawyers-in-training these days and they got back on stage pretty much on a whim.

And man, have they grown up in the process. The old bands were always fun — and pretty good, besides — but the Handsomes as a band blows ’em out of the water. Not strictly ska, they incorporate some elements of that with a shitload of urban-sounding funk (think Stevie Wonder or Sly & the Family Stone), reggae rhythms, honey-sweet vocals, and addictive pop melodies, and the result’s impressive. It reminds me at times of long-gone Houstonian funksters Venus in Furs, who took a similar melting-pot approach to their music but also of people like Fishbone, Jamiroquai, and (probably more than anything else) Maroon 5. (And lest anybody think the latter comparison’s a slam: yes, I like Maroon 5 a heck of a lot.)

I hear the band’s got a six-song EP out these days, but sadly, I haven’t heard it yet — I’ve had to make do with the sample tracks they’ve got up online. Even still, the recorded stuff can’t compare with the live experience. Go see these guys, seriously, while you can (maybe) still get in the door…

Band writeup by . Band writeup posted Saturday, September 19th, 2009. Filed under Posts.

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