It was “Respect,” the 1967 Aretha Franklin hit, that finally got some people moving at the 6th Street Rhythm and Blues Review concert on Friday night. That searing R & B number, delivered a knockout punch by “Boss Lady” Danielle DeCosmo, came towards the end of a concert in which the crowd had mostly sat as seriously as if at the symphony. The reason for the crowd’s sitting stone-like during a performance designed for dancing seems traceable to appreciation: This was a purist’s concert. Evidence came in the form of polite applause and in a minor incident that occurred two or three songs into the show.
As the band kicked into a much-loved standard, an audience member came forward to complain about a homeless man who was dancing at the front of the stage. At issue to the complainant was that the man, the lone dancer, was obstructing the sight line and therefore ruining the concert for the rest of the audience. People, it seemed, wanted to sit and enjoy as one would at a theatre. The audience didn’t budge from its seated position even as the band played increasingly uptempo numbers and while lead singer DeCosmo and sax player “Doctor Bing” shared a boogie during one of the night’s more infectiously danceable songs.
“Respect” did more than get some of the crowd off its feet. It left much of the audience stunned; a good number of these were men in awe of DeCosmo’s talent and striking good looks. Some men, well past an age where such behavior might be anticipated, clustered around the stage for a better look and the only word they seemed able to utter was “Wow.”
DeCosmo, vocalist for Boss Lady and the Company, came to 6th Street when the band had an opening for a lead singer. At Friday’s show, with her hair pulled back and dressed in a modest black sleeveless frock, she didn’t resemble the bikini-top-wearing, belly-baring chick from Boss Lady and the Company. That iteration of DeCosmo is something of a local legend.
The singer lost nothing in shedding the sexy for the demure. The modest attire meant that the voice had to stand on its own and it did, alternately gliding, swooping, sailing, and rocketing through a set list comprising R & B classics and original material.
Despite the central visual focus on DeCosmo, sax player Steve “Bing” Bingham was a standout on his own. He plays with full bodily commitment and visceral gusto. An impromptu clapping-and-snapping jive with DeCosmo to “Got My Mojo Working ” had him looking as gleeful as a kid with a shiny new toy.
The two-set concert kicked off with the Herbie Hancock instrumental “Watermelon Man,” which showcased the band’s technical precision (no surprise there; Steve Bingham is a professor of music at a local college). DeCosmo entered on the soft-edged “Fly Me to the Moon.” If the audience in the back reaches couldn’t see that far, another Bingham–brother John “Bingo”–was putting on a performance with a cigarette that rivaled both “Think” and “Respect” for showmanship. The cigarette dangled from Bingo’s lower lip in time to the music and then fell to the stage; the effect was hardcore, dive-bar R & B drummer in strong contrast to DeCosmo’s dainty concert-hall appearance. This was a humorous visual that had a handful of people standing stage left laughing, and when it was repeated a few songs later it became hysterical, especially when it appeared that Bingo was taking a short and very restful snooze while managing a sharp attack on a snare drum. If his band bio is any indication, the comedy routine is a celebrated part of his persona: the bio shows a picture of the Muppet called “Animal” (a “crazed drummer”) at his drum kit. “As he sees himself,” the caption reads.
The set list was a tightly edited selection of both modern and traditional R & B and jazz favorites, including “The Frim-Fram Sauce,” “Popcorn,” “Fever,” “Hit the Road, Jack,” and the closer “Standing on Shaky Ground.” With the Boss in place the band–which admittedly I didn’t see with the former singer–seems to be in a position to attract both the purist crowd and a younger, crossover crowd familiar with Boss Lady and the Company. I just wish more people had gotten up to dance.