If I've learned anything from writing about music and my recent return to performing music, it's that regardless of what you think of a band's recordings, you can't make a proper assessment without seeing them live.
So until last week, I owed Andy Shaw Band a big apology.
The reggae-infected rockers played every Monday at Ruby Tuesday for nearly two years. Every week, I got their Facebook invites. Every week, I didn't show. Meanwhile, they stayed active around town with lots of other gigs, a busy schedule that continued even after the Ruby's residency ended late last year.
Not every act deserves attention. Most bands are mediocre or worse. But such an active presence in Columbus music merits a closer examination.
Thus, when Shaw and company announced a "surprise show" at Ruby's last Wednesday, I finally showed up to take in a set. Sure enough, it upped my respect for the band by several notches.
I've always been of the opinion that whiteboy reggae is about as palatable as the sterilized Caucasian blues music baby boomers love so much - you know, like Eric Clapton or that Blueshammer band from "Ghost World." The reggae equivalent would probably be something like Andy Samberg's Ras Trent character from The Lonely Island.
With traces of '60s pop and various folky singer-songwriters in the mix, I knew Andy Shaw Band had more to offer than a genre parody. This isn't a reggae band so much as a reggae-influenced rock band. Yet even though the group's recordings boast songwriting skills and a vast array of influences, I was still a little nervous about what syncopated horrors might await me on stage.
Indeed, there was a bit of island riddim in the air, a feel that could get ugly fast in the right context. This wasn't that kind of show, though. Minutes after I arrived, Shaw and Theo Perry (also of Floorwalkers fame) combined for a Steely Dan-style harmonized guitar line that immediately eradicated my worst fears. This band had surprises in store. There was even a bit of a sonic freak-out at one point, the kind of curveball that keeps me engaged.
Each song felt full and formidable, even without usual keyboard player Jim Shaw in the mix. Drummer Chris Shaw and new bassist Matt Paetsch held the groove with nary a hiccup, creating dense textures for the guitarists to play around in.
And they sure did play, unfurling a smart balance of spotlight solos and between-the-cracks riffage. Perry handled most of the heavy lifting, but Andy Shaw chipped in occasionally with something a little more raw. It reminded me of dexterous Nels Cline and rambunctious Jeff Tweedy trading riffs at a Wilco show.
I grew a bit weary by the end of the set, as the songs began to blend together a bit. Ultimately, though, Andy Shaw Band left me wishing I would have seen them in action much sooner and thankful that there will be ample opportunity to do it again.