Early Friday evening, Mrs. YHT and I met up with Bandmate 4eva Doug, his wife and guest poster Gormie outside the Squirrely Gates of The Diamond and headed inside to watch the Richmond Flying Squirrels do battle with the Altoona Curve.
For three of us, it was our first game of the year. But for Doug and his wife, who recently moved back to Richmond after a few years away, this was their first time seeing the Squirrels (and their spectacular marketing team) in action. I was practically giddy. OK, whatever, I was giddy. I get a huge kick out of showing newcomers the clever branding, squirrel puns and general silliness. Some of that has to do with being fond of bad jokes, some with the fact that my day job is in marketing, but mostly it’s because I derive a sense of pride from what baseball in Richmond has become. I like being able to say to people, essentially, “Look at what we have here! Isn’t this great?!?” It’s a flattering (I think) reflection of what our city looks like at its most creative and enthused, and I can’t help feeling lucky and proud.
I feel the exact same way about No BS! Brass Band.
After the game — a speedy 2-1 loss — the five of us reconvened at Balliceaux, which was quickly filling up for the first of this weekend’s back-to-back RVA All Day record release shows. I have to confess, I have a love-hate relationship with release shows. I find them to be… overwhelming. Have you ever seen a dog with a tennis ball in its mouth chase down another tennis ball, only to get massively confused when it’s time to pick the second one up? That’s me at a record release show. On one hand, I’m watching an exciting and momentous performance. On the other, I’m being given a brand-new record that I’d like to take home and start spinning immediately. Live music. New record. Live music. New record. Tennis ball #1. Tennis ball #2. Too. Much. Excitement.
Of course, this is a great problem to have, and I enjoyed every minute of the crowded, rowdy and celebratory set that preceded RVA All Day going on sale for the first time. Starting with the album’s title track, No BS! took the back room of Balliceaux for a joyous, hour-long tour of their new wares, putting on display both an increased focus on vocals and a familiar flare for instrumental fireworks.
I’d read that hip hop would play a greater role in the new album, and that the vocals wouldn’t be constrained to group utterances as they had in the past, but I was taken aback by how confident and natural Bryan Hooten’s work on songs like “Run Around” sounded. Singing, rapping, pumping up the crowd — it all felt right, like the final pieces of a puzzle being placed right where they’d always belonged. No BS! shows have always been genre-busting affairs, with wonderfully varied originals and covers, but the additional vocals bring a whole host of styles within striking distance, rendering the group’s firepower even more formidable. In that light, RVA All Day looks less like an endpoint than a new beginning — the start of something that will be fun to follow as the group continues to evolve.
That being said, the group’s jazzy numbers still managed to steal the show, with Reggie Pace, David Hood and other soloists taking turns in the spotlight, trading improvisational bursts and ratcheting up the set’s intensity. In my mind, this remains No BS!’s greatest musical achievement. They may not call themselves a jazz band, and I certainly wouldn’t limit them as such, given all the other genres they pull from, but they have a way of drawing people in and bringing elements of jazz to ears that may not spend many other Friday nights under the spell of trumpets, saxophones and trombones. It’s no small feat, and their passion and proficiency are two big reasons why this gravitational pull exists. But it’s not just about notes and solos. Not by a long shot.
While they’re helping people connect with jazz, they’re also helping people connect with each other. There’s an unmistakable feeling of togetherness you get when scanning the room at a No BS! show, with smiles, dancing, attentiveness, and ranges in age and race that make you want to take a 3-D snapshot of the entire scene and cart it around as a model for how things should be. Call me sentimental, but I think their love for the city of Richmond — as explicit as ever thanks to the new album’s title — is the secret ingredient. By shouting “RVA ALL DAY!” in unison, they’re both exalting and creating a sense of community, generating a feedback loop of support that goes way beyond music or entertainment. Essentially, they’re saying to each and every person in attendance ”Look at what we have here! Isn’t this great?!?” — with extra emphasis on the we.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I failed the tennis ball test, buying the album at the midnight set break and heading home to put it on the turntable right away. When I did, there were two songs I had to play right away — “Run Around,” because I’d enjoyed it so much in the live setting, and “Thriller,” which features a drumline assist from the Varina High School marching band. Listen to both below and start getting excited for the album’s official June 14 release date.