Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 9/9/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

It’s a damn shame that the people of Brooklyn couldn’t get it together enough on September 9th to come out and support the incredible Barrence Whitfield and the Savages as they teared up the Bell House, but ultimately, it’s their loss. A paltry, but enthusiastic crowd gathered extra early in the three-act show to catch the middle band, the truly beloved (and seemingly never aging) The Fleshtones. And the same paltry crowd kept the energy level up for Whitfield and his band, dancing and shouting requests through his set. Sure, weeknights can be tough, particularly when they run on the late side, but when Barrence Whitfield releases a new record, you show up.

That new record is Under the Savage Sky, and it follows Dig Thy Savage Soul. It’s a rambunctious blend of old fashioned soul, contemporary R&B, garage-punk and rockabilly, and odd but truly special sound that Whitfield really owns. He showed up on stage in a “ZULU” emblazoned jester hat, colorful paisley shirt and his signature dark-framed glasses. He kept his usual larger-than-life personality toned down a bit in the beginning, tricking the audience into thinking this may be a softer version of his usual adrenaline-packed performance style. Before long, he removed his hat and whipped out the sweat towel, getting into his signature groove. Whitfield is a blast to watch and listen to, incorporating hip-shaking and humor into each and every note. He spends most shows singing with his eyes closed tightly, so fully “in it” it’s infectious. You’ll likely find yourself following suit on the dancefloor, letting go of inhibitions and letting it all hang out in the name of Barrence.

But the best part about watching Whitfield perform is how smoothly he transitions between characters and sounds. He can ooze sensuality during a classic song like “I’m Sad About It”, and then have his audience in stitches over the smartly written “Incarceration Casserole” (a tune of the new record that tells the story of a man’s helplessness around the house after his wife is sent to jail). And in between it all, he reminds you in funny little ways he’s just a regular guy. “Anyone have the Mets score?” He asked, before getting wide-eyed and giddy at the response that they had one. He proceeded to dedicate “Walking with Barrence” to his favorite team.

The Savages are a gem of a band, made up of guitarist Peter Greenberg, bassist Phil Lenker, drummer Andy Jody, and saxophonist Tom Quartulli. The talent is bursting from the seams with these guys, and they never let up even for a second. They’re so in synch with each other, it’s intimidating, and each contributes his own uniqueness to the arrangements. It takes a lot to keep up with a force like Whitfield, but these guys have it down to a science.

Other highlights from the evening came off the new record, including “I’m a Full Grown Man”, “The Claw” and “Willow”, as well as some standout oldies like “Bip Bop Bip”, “Bloody Mary”, and “Just Moved In”. Despite the lame turnout, the guys garnered an encore which they took full advantage of, performing a cover of Ted Taylor’s classic “Ramblin’ Rose”, and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop”.

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