A band that calls itself Velveeta Underground is likely to fool the unsuspecting into thinking that the band is a group of hipper-than-thou trendster-aesthetes with expensive European eyewear, a taste for esoteric and nearly unpalatable beers, and an arsenal of experimental musical poses as stylish as their haircuts. They would be an exclusive club that really wouldn’t want you as an audience member, and later, backstage, they’d roll their eyes at your general unfitness as a human being.
In other words, you’d think they sucked and they’d think you were an asshole and you would probably be in California.
But this is Gainesville, not San Francisco, so Velveeta Underground is two middle-aged guys (Jim Wegman and Don Austin) on guitar and violin and a jury-rigged stand-up “banjo bass” made from a steel washtub, plus a changing assortment of other musicians and a hippie-hillbilly-tie-dyed audience a far cry from the colonists of cult who worry about a band’s cool factor more than its actual musical legitimacy.
Velveeta Underground interlocks classic rock , chamber rock, blues, country, jazz, and folk into a cultural catalogue that spans the USA, with plenty of pitstops along backroads and byways. Their take on “Faraway Eyes,” a song that never quite sounded authentically Bakersfield when the Stones did it, falls syllabically into Velveeta Underground’s domain as if they had an explicit connection to that unglamorous city and the dusty valley that surrounds it.
There was a nice, ad hoc quality to Velveeta Underground’s concert at the Bo Diddley Plaza last Friday night. A string broke, causing an upset in the timing that meant that a guest vocalist sang less than what had been intended. The timing of instrument-switching, unaccounted for in rehearsal, also caused the full set not to be played. Before the last number, the band asked if anyone with a camera could come up and take a picture from the stage that would show the large audience; evidently they didn’t realize that such an angle would show only a dark void where the audience should be. I will confess to being the person who attempted it after seeing a guest vocalist have at it with a pocket camera and I got a lovely snap of the band playing to a black hole, but so what? They were there throughout the show, attesting to the band’s ability to hold a crowd, something that doesn’t always happen at the Plaza as people drift off and others take their place.
Despite the name, the band is devoid of the cheez factor. They didn’t play a cover of “Pants on the Ground” or lampoon anything or squeeze anything out of a can. They just played an honest and straightforward concert with an endearing gee-whiz, not Cheez-Whiz, enthusiasm. The band’s joy at playing this stage drove home the importance of the Plaza as a concert venue. Gainesville is full of pizza parlors and small stages at which a band can play, but the Plaza is something special. It’s the only place in town where a local band can draw upwards of 1,500 people, and the bands tend to do it justice. By the time Velveeta Underground reached its penultimate number, they’d fleshed out to five musicians and they filled that brick-and-concrete space as if they’d been doing it all their lives. Friends rushed up to congratulate them as the concert ended, and it dawned on me that they’d transformed the Plaza into a giant campfire circle. Few bands can do that, and it is a large part of Velveeta Underground’s appeal. They aren’t the slickest showmen around and they don’t need to be. In fact, slickness would ruin their charm. The concert was perfect that way, and no one gave a shit what brand of shoes you were wearing.