I consider myself to be something of a connoisseur of band promo photos. More specifically, as an inveterate list-maker, I’ve spent a lot of time enumerating the ways a band can take a necessary evil like a promo photo (superfluous in theory; it’s supposed to be about the music, right?) and make me, like, never want to go see them.
The absolute worst—more odious than the fish-eye shots where at least one band member seemingly cups the shot in an outstretched hand, more odious than the goofy ska bands in their porkpie hats and the Dead Boys redux-type bands displaying their tattoos to such magnificent advantage, more odious than even these are the photos in which the band members—assembled for the express purpose of a glamor shot—act as disinterested as possible and stare (artfully? meaningfully? symbolically?) off in four or five different directions. Dude, you’re supposed to be selling me on your band, not making me hate you sound unheard!
Now look at this photo of the B-Side Players. Pleasant smiles, good posture, and they’re all looking directly into the lens. I mean look at them. Don’t they look genuinely unaffected? Don’t they just look like they’re digging the hell out of being the B-Side Players? And don’t you want to run right out and see them?
There’s something so disingenuous about their photo, you could easily assume they were just a decent, gung-ho party band. You might not guess that almost every song on their 1999 album Culture of Resistance is pointedly political, covering topics from Brazilian famine to the Zapatistas, to Mumia Abu Jamal, for whom every soap-dodging cruster from Teaneck to Telegraph has a patch sewn into his jacket, and about whom, it seems, the same punks often know very little.
But even if you knew about the topical beef of the B-Side Players, you’d never guess how effortlessly they weave these topics into the alloy of salsa, funk, reggae, frenetic Cubano, you name it. They make it seem easy and fun, never forced—just like the band photo would suggest. Even tracks like “Mouse Marathon,” where the instrumentation merely percolates in the background while “propeller of vocal truth” Karlos Paez drops some pretty intense science, have an appealingly inclusive quality about them.
And, come on, there’s nine of them up there squeezing those beats, including three or four percussionists. That’s a lot of distinct musical personalities in one confederation. Members of the B-Side Players hail from hometowns up and down the West Coast, and among their individual credentials are things like choir training, Mexican church music, classical music studies and lengthy hitches in straight African rhythm ensembles. And they all love jazz. In fact, the band suggested in an interview last year that you could strip down to any four of them and still have a first-rate jazz ensemble.
Twice that plus one and there’s no stopping them. The B-Side Players are digging it.
The B-Side Players play the Ritz this Friday, Feb. 4 at 10 p.m. Cover $5 advance, $6 at the door.