Concert Review: Mike Mineo Album Release Party at the Funky Buddha Lounge, April 9

mike mineo.jpg
John Mineo
The Buddha became eccentric
Mike Mineo
With Rachel Goodrich and Matt Z
The Funky Buddha Lounge, Boca Raton
Friday, April 9, 2010

For years, Mike Mineo's shimmering talent has been in the shadows. For years, he's breathed sonic, life-giving breaths into rooms (and forests, valleys, beaches) that one would expect from the most swinging players in New Orleans or the most spiritually charged reggae groups out of Kingston, but never in a way as grand as his artistic vision demands.

For the last year and a half he's focused his wild creativity on recording an album. And now, after loads of love, sweat, and miracles, the vision has manifested. To celebrate the release of Eccentricity, his debut album, Mike Mineo had a party at the Funky Buddha Lounge in Boca. He was joined by a full band, lots of fans, and some special surprises.

Having watched the evolution of the biggest project yet from someone who I consider to be an extremely fresh and powerful young artist, I recognized the event as being much more than just a gig.
The recently re-opened Funky Buddha was perfect for the occasion. It's a comfortable, moderately sized (max capacity 150) room filled with the aroma of shisha and heady, craft beer. The sound system is quality and the stage is a beautiful wood construction. The crowd was relaxed, soaking up the sounds and scents as they sat upon the couches or boogied on the hard wood dance floor. The band took the stage running slightly late, and Mineo humbly thanked everyone for coming.

He was sporting a funky haircut -- a creature that was some sort of Vanilla Ice/Paul McCartney cross-breed -- and was flanked by a five piece band consisting of Bill Muter (bass, tuba), Brad Abramson (keys, accordion, trumpet), Dave Prince (saxophone), Jason Raznor (trumpet), and Darin Scott (drums). With the exception of Scott, all of the band members contributed to the album, yet they'd never played together as a unit until the night before the gig.

Before the band counted into the horn driven opener "Believe", Mineo announced that the band would play the album in its entirety, in two sets. The 18-track album is over an hour long, and would actually be better packaged as a double album, split up in the way it was done live. "Believe" acted as an opening incantation. These days, a song called "Believe" is just as likely to be cynical and ironic as it is to be uplifting. Mineo's song is of the latter variety. The pithy lines, affirmative and optimistic, were belted with passion as the horns provided the blaring, steady groove, bringing to mind Desmond Dekker's "You Succeed at Last." On the down side, it was tough to make out the lyrics throughout much of the performance.

The set continued with more Chicago Transit Authority-meets-Dr. John style, horn driven, jazzy pop tunes. It was funky, but clean; almost too clean. The arrangement and performance was that of a mature artist. Mineo's guitar work, for instance, was very understated throughout the evening. He's got the skills to really jam out, but also the mindfulness not to. His playing was not front-and-center, but rather, part of the whole. He got more and more animated and energetic as the night went on, and was not afraid to cut loose, though it never seemed put-on or attention seeking.

With all that said, the set needed to get a bit dirtier after four or five songs in this style. I was not left wanting for long. The seventh tune to roll around was Eccentricity's title track. This sing-along's country-folk feel was a refreshing break from the steady, funky tunes that preceded it. The sweeping, melodic "Waiting," a tune about "learning to accept uncertainty as a beautiful thing" provided a nice follow. The first set closed out with the only cover song on the album, Adam Weinstein's "Some Kind of Fish." All of the momentum built up in the set poured into the performance of this beautiful song and gave this writer chlls.

When the band left the stage for intermission, a weird, bearded, porn-obsessed comedian named Matt Z (AKA Viking Matt) took the stage. Matt is a regular fixture at the Buddha and his interactive schtick kept the good times rolling for a bit before handing the intermission torch to the other surprise act of the evening, Rachel Goodrich. For those who've not yet seen this Miami-based, acoustic folk singer, her songs are quirky, gritty, and catchy, she's got impressive blues guitar skills, and she's got a haircut that gives Mineo's mop a run for its money.

After the half-hour intermission, Mineo and Abramson returned to the stage armed with accordions, an instrument that would hang around for much of the remainder of the evening. The second set had a looser feel, which was apparent from the opening bars of "Multi Colored Strings" that the band had made it over the hump of nerves that accompany a big performance and were ready to have some fun. Mineo became even livelier than before and Prince continued to cheer on the whole happening. The crowd was looser too; having, no doubt, consumed their share of potent brews.

One of the more raucous moments was the accordion lead "Movin to France," a song in which Mineo sings (sometimes in an over the top French accent) about leaving this troubled country and all its "crazy fat people" to go live in Paris and write poetry. I only wish that he was planning on falling in love with a French girl or guy though, rather than a poodle ("I'll fall in love with some French bitch"). It's an unsettling image, even though they'd look cute with their matching hairdos. For the end of the set, Mineo sat down at the keys for "In Love" and then played the acoustic closer "Heart and Bones", which concludes the album. Mineo then brought the band back up to jam out a bit. They finished off the evening with Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain", the Beatles' "Ob La Di Ob La Da", and an original called "Sigmund Freud's Prescription" (AKA "The Pussy Song"), a loud, funky rock number in which all the band members made sex noises in turn.

Now that the album is out, Mineo says he's shifting the focus to playing more shows, which is exciting news. The music not only makes for fun shows (especially given Mineo's animated stage presence), but is also positive-minded, trustworthy, and artful. It doesn't easily fit into any category. It'll be great to have Mineo, who usually plays as a duo or trio, playing around town more, and exciting to see him branch out beyond South Florida.

Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias: For years, I've considered Mike Mineo to be an inspiration and a special musical talent. I've been rooting for him for a good while and am thrilled to see things coming together as they are.

Random Detail: A few years ago, in Orlando, I experienced Mike Mineo inspiring a late night, extemporaneous Bob Marley sing-a-long in a pizza joint while in line for a slice with his guitar around his neck. To those who were too cool to join in he simply stated "I'm alive!"

By the Way: The album features lovely string arrangements and other instrumentation that was not present (or missed) at the live show.

-- Travis Newbill
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