It’s a one-in-a-million band: soulful acoustic/electric rock, rippling keyboards, thoughtful, hooky lyrics, lots of male and female harmony vocals and just enough looseness to keep things together.
Just about everyone in the band is a songwriter, and the members back each other up enthusiastically. They’ve been voted the best unsigned band in the country, and now the Continental Drifters are trying to prove that they’re more than just a fun hobby for a bunch of gifted musicians.
“We’ve been sticking it out for quite a while – since 1991 – but there still seems to be this perception out there that the Continental Drifters are a side project,” said guitarist/singer/songwriter Vicki Peterson during a recent interview.
The New Orleans-based band does a good job of backing up its various singers and songwriters, she said, noting “the irony is that this is probably the most integrated, unified, communistic band that I’ve ever been in.”
Maybe 1997 will be the year that the record labels start to see the beauty of the forest instead of fixating on the curiosities of the metaphorical trees.
The group brings together ex-members of The Bangles, Dream Syndicate, The Cowsills and Steve Wynn’s band, and they’ve just completed a string of dates on the East Coast and in Alabama, Mississippi and New Orleans. Their next stop is tonight and Grant Street Dancehall. The Club’s doors open at 9 p.m., the music starts at 10 p.m. and admission is $7. New Orleans-based pop/rock band Peabody will open the show.
Another plus for the Drifters is the fact that keyboardist/guitarist/singer/songwriter Peter Holsapple will be back with the group for nearly all of 1997. Holsapple has been touring extensively with Hootie & the Blowfish, and while that’s given the Drifters some great exposure in occasional opening act slots, it has limited their ability to work together on a consistent basis.
Since their last Lafayette appearance, the band has replaced departed drummer/singer/songwriter Carlo Nuccio with Acadiana native Russ Broussard, a veteran of The Bluerunners and Terrance Simien’s band. According to the bassist/songwriter Mark Walton, fans can watch Broussard attempt a rare feat – playing the drums and rubboard simultaneously – during one of the band’s new tunes, Peterson’s “Watermark.”
Peterson said the band has a batch of “very vocal-oriented” songs ready to record, and they’ll perform them tonight along with several new covers.
New tunes in the Continental Drifters setlist include versions of Fairport Convention’s “Meet Me on the Ledge,” Sandy Denny’s “End of the Day” and Alive & Kicking’s “Tighter, Tighter.”
But all of this doesn’t mean that the band members won’t continue to work on other projects from time to time. Peterson and Susan Cowsill (who happens to be married to fellow Drifter Holsapple) will continue to gig once in a while as the folky duo Psycho Sisters.
And Holsapple’s recent released solo disc, the eclectic “Out of My Way (Monkey Hill)” is in stores now.
During the last year, multi-instrumentalist Holsapple has recorded with Joh Hiatt, Better than Ezra, Nanci Griffith and Cowboy Mouth. Performing with Hootie, he’s been joined on stage by Al Green, Chet Atkins and Bela Fleck. “I’ve had the opportunities that have just been amazing,” he told The Boston Globe. “Get it while the getting’s good. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
But Peterson, who sang on Holsapple’s new disc, offers a clarification: “We’re all very proud of it and proud of him,” she said, “But that’s a side project. Psycho Sisters is a side project.”
Super Bowl schlock
The Continental Drifters have released one outstanding disc, an eponymous effort on the Monkey Hill label, and their live shows surpass even that noteworthy effort. Walton during an interview the day after the Super Bowl, discussed why the band may have had trouble gaining the attention of record executives and the fans beyond their loyal following.
He uses the Super Bowl’s halftime show featuring a medley of songs by The Blues Brothers, ZZ Top and James Brown as an example.
“Why are you going to hire all these mega-stars to go up and lip-sync when they can actually play their instruments? That’s not what performing is all about . . . If that’s what people want, maybe that’s why we don’t have a record deal.”
And Walton’s idea of performing extends far beyond the 30 or 40 minutes the band has played during recent opening slots for Hootie. “By the time the adrenalin’s pushing,” he said, “They pull you off stage.”
What’s he looking for? Euphoria. “That’s the basic emotion. That’s what happens when we play. And the audience gets the same feeling – it kind of sucks them in, and that’s why we’ve made it a long-term project. That’s why you should see the Continental Drifters.”