New York City has many hidden gems during the summer for those of us who stick around the sweltering sidewalks instead of fleeing to the coasts. Friday Night, July 13th on the outdoor Damrosch Park Stage at Lincoln Center saw one of the city’s cool events, Midsummer Night Swing go down with the excellent support of the James Hunter Six.
The evening started early for those who wanted to get lessons from swing teacher Paolo Lanna on the actual dance floor erected in front of the stage. The huge space was filled with a beautiful cross-section of New Yorkers as beginner/expert, young/old paired off to start swinging under the humid summer air. The dance floor kept filling up as DJ Rita Houston from WFUV kept the crowd in the mood playing songs from artists like Wilson Pickett and Archie Bell and the Drells whenever there was a break in the action.
The James Hunter Six exuberantly bounded onto the unadorned stage and kicked things off with “If That Don’t Tell You” containing warm organ runs, high paced cymbal work and punchy saxophone fills. Hunter was in a great mood, chatting between all songs in his thick Essex accent and mentioned that the band rarely played two sets so we would be getting “the disco remix, long versions of songs” on this night.
The title track off the group’s newest offering Whatever It Takes was a delight as the easy groove kept the dance floor swaying while the British blues and light ska pulse propelled “People Gonna Talk”. “No Smoke Without Fire” was sultry with Hunter delivering sweet soul singing and killer lead guitar lines around a cutting solo. The pace kicked up with an extended take on Chuck Berry’s “Betty Jean” which saw solos from all as a ‘50’s rocking vibe swept over the show, accentuated by their first set closer, the bands take on Larry Williams classic “Bony Maronie” that got pumped up via the in sync saxophones and ever-present hi-hat.
As the sun set behind the stage there was a short break before the second set of tunes from the group was started by the Hunter original “Chicken Switch”. This active number inserted an early era James Brown feel to the night before the energetic “(Baby) Hold On” caused waves of hip shaking, even from those away from the dance floor. Both the waltzing “Something Else” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You” cooled things off with slow sweet retro grooves which could have rolled on all night but business picked up as the band closed out their night on a rambunctious note.
“Don’t Do Me No Favours” had the rhythm section leading the charge allowing each of the other players some room to solo while “Believe Me Baby” closed things with a scream, band introductions, puffing sax solos, rollicking keys and fiery guitar work.
The popping “Talkin’ Bout My Love” was a huge throw down in the encore slot as Hunter started slapping his guitar like a bass as he and the six let it all hang out for this special event in New York City. While the band was finished, fans still had food trucks to hit up and a silent disco to attend if they wanted to keep the party going as the Lincoln Center events staff saw to a dynamite evening on every front.