A year after the virus’ insidious creep into the United States, just a paucity of national acts are touring again, which means this is a potential boom time for local bands to feed the appetites of audiences starving for live music. We are covering five of them a few months down the road, in the May-June print edition of Boca magazine, and I decided to get an early start by seeing one of them, jazz/funk collective Public Sounds, this past Saturday.
For music as complex and, at times, rarefied as Public Sounds, the venue was a tad inauspicious. This sextet headlined the night’s live entertainment at the so-called “mini” South Florida Fair, a more than century-old West Palm Beach institution whose previous musical leanings land somewhere between Molly Hatchet and bar bands playing Kenny Loggins and Skynyrd covers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se—it just ain’t my scene. This year, at least, Public Sounds’ mere presence classed up a joint in which favored gourmet offerings included deep-fried Oreos and chocolate-dipped bacon.
Scaled-back though it apparently was, with far fewer live performers (and indoor spaces eliminated), the Fair thronged with people who, it must be said, flaunted social-distancing regulations, huddling in sprawling queues for carnival rides and acting laissez-faire toward masks even when they weren’t eating or drinking; alcohol, the comparative safety of the outdoors, and the illusion of “old normal” revelry can do that to you.
All of that said, it was good to find a couple of isolated seats up front for Public Sounds’ hour-long set. We were two of the few: Aside from a party of superfans nearby, the seats were more empty than not, which is a shame, because the show proved to be a deft introduction to the group’s funky sound and eclectic palette of influences. The group playfully but studiously reimagined classics from Stevie Wonder to Britney Spears (an elevated take on “Toxic”) to Red Hot Chili Peppers (an especially transportive “Jungle Man”) before sending the audience off with a handful of originals from the band’s 2019 debut LP, Irregular Prime.
With saxophonist Markis Hernandez and trombonist/percussionist Kevin Cripanuk leading on brass duties, the group brought breathless speed and attitude to the album single “Funky See, Funky Do,” and altogether impressed with a big, fulsome sound indebted, at least in my mind, to Herbie Hancock and George Clinton.
I doubt there was a tremendous amount of Public Sounds converts at the Fair Saturday night, but I was certainly one. And I’m not just saying that because this was my first concert since February 2020—yowza!