Well … I was wrong. When I first saw a picture of Wesley Orsolic, I thought, “Great, another blues band.” So I prepared myself, as I walked to the Psychedelic Ballroom & Jukejoint. I made a mental checklist of all the things I always see at from blues bands with an older, white guitarist; the tired licks, the inevitable butchering of “Sweet Home Chicago,” the faces. Oh, those wretched faces guitar players make when they just can’t contain their excitement at bending a fucking string. Ugh, it’s always so brutal to watch. As I arrived, the near emptiness of the club only bolstered my trepidation.
Luckily, the dread didn’t last long. I walked into the bar as the band was taking the stage and my fears were erased almost immediately as guitarist Wesley Orsolic, drummer Liz Broscoe, and keyboardist Lowell Wilson of the Wesley Orsolic Band embarked on a night of nuanced and textured funk, blues and jazz. The trio opened with an instrumental and that was based around not some Tubescreamer-soaked pentatonic noodling, but the groove of the tune itself. It was immediately refreshing to see a guitar player put more focus into playing a song than a solo. The musicians kept their volumes low and let the changes run themselves. The band quickly went through a handful more and with each song, the band’s namesake became more and more fiery with his playing.
Orsolic is an improvisational savant, carefully sizing up each tune and purposefully exploring its corners instead of attacking with a series of stock licks. A true craftsman, he’s surgical in determining what, where, and how to play during his solos, suturing Wes Montgomery style licks with modern phrasing.
Creating the melodic stanchions that allowed Orsolic to play so sparsely was keyboardist Wilson comping the bass with his left hand and playing organ with his right. The result was a more vintage sound that lent a softer but more fitting thump to the basslines.
And rounding out the rhythm section was Broscoe. Not since watching Keith Carlock play with Steely Dan have I seen a drummer so subtly command attention onstage. While Broscoe had both chops and general musicality in spades, it was her feel that forced the small crowd from their bar stools. With hints of Afro-Cuban drag permeating just about everything she played, I can say she is, without a doubt, one of the tastiest drummers I’ve ever seen.
The highlight of the set came with a mostly instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” in fact the only time the set faltered at all was when the music was interrupted with vocals that didn’t match the quality of the musicianship. The group is at its most intriguing when Orsolic takes the time to twist and turn melodies around with his guitar as he did for most of the Michael Jackson classic.
As the set came to a close, a handful of other musicians began unpacking their gear for the post-show blues jam. Even though it was mostly a cacophony of bowling shirts, expensive gear, and masturbatory, sophomoric soloing, the still very small crowd was excited to be able to dance to their friends’ music.
Quickly it was all over, and within a 2½ hour span, PB&J had provided the gamut, blues-based music from the hackish to the virtuosic had been on the stage and the crowd proved to be as devout as it was diminutive and stayed ’till the last note rang out.
- Wesley Orsolic Band
March 12 — Steamers Bar & Grill, 7 p.m.
April 8 — Genoa Bar, 8 p.m.
May 28 — The Beacon, 1 p.m.
June 3 — Genoa Bar, 8 p.m.
June 18 — The Beacon, 1 p.m.
July 16 — The Beacon, 1 p.m.
Aug. 20 — The Beacon, 1 p.m.
Sept. 17 — The Beacon, 1 p.m.