“It’s Star Time!!!” Doug announced to the Saturday night crowd at 3rd Street Live after a quick instrumental set of songs from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. “It’s Star Time!!” he repeated and introduced the lovely ladies of The Diplomettes who were greeted by enthusiastic cheering and clapping.
The announcement style is a tribute to the emcee Danny Ray who used to exclaim “Star Time!” before James Brown hit the stage. It’s with this knowing wink that The Diplomats of Solid Sound pays homage to the work of soul greats like James Brown who is arguably the architect of the music that influences them. The B3-fueled sound of The Diplomats draws equally from the Stax houseband Booker T and the MG’s and Brown’s band the JB’s.
The band seems very comfortable in the role of backing band to the three vocalists of the Diplomettes. Prior to July 2006 when the girls joined the group, The Diplomats of Solid Sound were largely an instrumental act with three albums under their belt; two of which on independent label Estrus Records. They were enjoying a modicum of popularity mostly in the EU where they had been doing touring and by the finicky tastes of TV producers needing a juicy instrumental vamp for some scene on VH1 and MTV’s regular diet of reality shows. In a similar fashion to Booker T and the MG’s each of the members of the band are noted regional sessionmen performing on most of the noted Eastern Iowa recordings in the last ten years.
I guess the last time I saw the Diplomats was March of 2006 at Martini’s. I’ve seen the guys since then– Nate and Jim at the two Bo Ramsey shows and Doug a couple of times at the Picador. There always seemed to be something conflicting with convenient shows. As such, I hadn’t seen any performances with the Diplomettes other than catching some clips on YouTube.
Back then, the Diplomat shows were pretty much low-key affairs. The band pulling out chestnuts from Booker T and the MG’s as well as Blue Note acts and the occasional surf tune in addition to their own material. A great band to kick back and listen to while drinking and hanging with friends. The 2008 version of the band delivers a completely different show.
In fact, the show Saturday night was almost more of a revue in the classic ’60’s sense focusing on showmanship. The focus of the show was the Diplomettes who brought a vintage girl group sensibilityto the act. Each of the three ladies provided lead vocal turns while the other two provided harmonies; sometimes singing in a three-part harmony. I could hear similarities to Motown acts like the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, but also Southern Soul/Stax styles, or a Phil Spector girl group influence. At times the vocals seemed to have a 40’s Andrews Sisters feel (at least in the three-part harmonies). Visually, the Diplomettes are stunning– color coordinated dresses and choreography all add to the appeal. I particularly like the palms-out and drop done to “Lights Out.”
I was fairly familiar with a lot the songs as I’d been listening to them streaming from the Diplomettes MySpace page— it seemed like the crowd was as well. Original songs like “Hurt Me So” and “Come In My Kitchen” are certainly crowd pleasers. One cover that took me by surprise was the “We’re Doin’ It (Thang) (pt. 2)” by Eddie Bo and the Soulfinders! I’m familiar with this song due to its inclusion in the DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Brainfreeze all-45’s mix. Very nice choice. I guess these shows are also an education in rare R&B!
The crowd Saturday night was great– lots of folks up dancing of all ages. My wife had a great time and we are talking about going to see them again in February– possibly in Dubuque or in Iowa City.
Go see them if you get a chance!
Here is my flickr.com photoset of the show with more pictures.
The Diplomats of Solid Sound MySpace Page with songs
The Diplomettes MySpace Page with songs