TEXT/PHOTOS BY JENNIFER KELLY
It was mostly because it was so damned cold.
You try a week of single-digit, high wind-chill, relentlessly bone-chilling New England weather. See if the idea of a night of sweaty, celebratory, jazz-funk-Latin New Orleans soul doesn’t appeal to you.
So we trekked down to Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall for the Iguanas, hoping for a good time and some respite from flinty winter. And, you know what? It worked.
The evening started with the local lifers of Trailer Park (above), a band with some two or three decades of history in western Massachusetts and a penchant for old time sax-honking, vamp-blaring rock ‘n roll. The band is a five-piece, two sax players, guitar, bass and drums, all five members kitted out in sharp suits. They’re loose and a little goofy, blaring brash, blues-shaded, funk-rhythmed ditties. It’s all fun, but it heats up right near the end with the swinging, swaggering, island-syncopations of “Uncle Jack” and the closer, a wild, joyriding, call-and-response monster of a tune called “Muhammed Ali.” It’s a fat, skanky blues that gets the audience into it. People are storming the dance floor and shouting back at the singer and it feels, just for a couple minutes, like it’s 110 degrees inside.
Trailer Park and the Iguanas are old friends whose paths have intersected at dives like this one for years, and you can see a lot of commonality in their music. Both bands draw on blues, funk and classic R&B, though Iguanas add a healthy dollop of Latin style to the mix.
As the set starts, front man Roy Hodges is playing a button accordion and Joe Cabral a beautiful 12-string guitar (both will switch over later in the program). Rene Coman picks up an unusual bass, with a narrow neck and a face decorated with elaborate turquoise designs and what looks like Curious George painted under the sound hole. Doug Garrison, in the back, pounds out the shuffling, ramshackle rhythms of “Benny’s Cadillac,” and the three in front — Hodges, Cabral and Coman — join in high close harmonies. This configuration of the band lasts through slinky, serpentine “Oye de Cumbia,” the country-rocking “Late at Night” (co-written with John Magnie from the Subdudes,” mariachi swaggering “Cumbia de Chon” from last year’s Juarez, the R&B-slanted single “Soul Kiss” also from Juarez (by this time Cabral has switched to a battered saxophone), and the wry, not-quite-mournful “Back in the Limelight.” It’s like a cornucopia of rootsy styles, whirled in a blender but with some big chunks left in.
A few people have ventured up to the dance floor during this preliminary session, but when Hodges switches to guitar and the band assays a little known Turtles B-side (the surfy “Buzzsaw”), the temperature shifts upward and people begin to groove. From there, things escalate with a series of old favorites, “Boom Boom Boom” and the Treme-tested “Oye Isabel,” the wonderfully sax-insinuating, woodblock clacking, jungle-feverish “El Orangutang” from Nuevo Boogaloo and the giddy syncopated rollercoaster rush of “Para Donde Vas?”
In the middle of the set, Joe Cabral announces that the Iguanas have just won Offbeat magazine’s 2014 Roots Rock Album of the year for Juarez. “Roots” is too broad a term, most of the time, but it seems like a perfect category for a band that has grooved effortlessly through genres from early rock, to classic soul, to New Orleans funk to south-of-the-border syncopation. And yeah, it’s gotten hot inside, with a little bit of les bon temps rolling right into frigid New England and taking over.