The last music show of the 2021 Arts in the Park series was an evening with our Flint Hills neighbors The Box Turtles. This happily anachronistic rock band has four members—bass, solid body guitar, kit drums, and acoustic/electric guitar—with a fourth member, a keyboard player, who may be a new association.
On this occasion, or perhaps from now on, they also featured a horn section—a sax player and a trumpeter—for almost half their numbers. The music was mostly original. And the band was a lot of fun to listen to.
They moved fairly quickly from song to song through almost thirty numbers. Two or three times musical segues got them from one song to another without any distinct break. But the program felt as if it had enough variety—no weepy ballads, but some down tempo stuff, and lots of dance music.
Things came along so fast that the audience may not have had time to think about the whistling. Do rock bands whistle? Well, the Box Turtles’ lead singer, the acoustic guitar player, whistled in three or four of their numbers. He whistled the organ solo in their rearrangement of Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” for example.
The group’s version of that great old song was a highlight of the evening. They may have played it too late. Introducing it earlier might have given the crowd a preliminary fix on the band’s sound, the perimeters of which may not have been obvious during runs of original material.
Actually the crowd started off as if Elexa Dawson had just left the stage. It was a small and quiet audience early on. But it grew and got rowdier as the evening went along, probably because nobody left and the late-comers soon got caught up in the fun.
What we heard from the Box Turtles was mostly rock with a little pop thrown in. The group seems to be interested in doo-wop of the sort Frank Zappa satirized and celebrated in the Mother’s “Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets” album. This influence seemed quirky, but it contributed to a successful whole.
Besides the whistling and the occasional whiff of 50s pop, the evening also gave us some light funk, and lots of backing vocals, and hard changes at phrase ends. The bassist was, thankfully, a pathfinder who kept us in touch with the downbeat and the general direction of the songs.
Most everybody on stage got in a solo or two, but the primary lead guitarist played solos sufficiently rehearsed that he could reproduce them if the arrangement called for him to do so. And the drummer, too, was playing parts that were written rather than wholly improvised or just conventional.
The wind instrument parts were simple, but fairly effective. And the horn players had decent solos. It was difficult to hear the keyboard most of the night. This seemed to be because the keyboard player chose to lay back rather than because the folks at the mixing board dampened him.
The mix was not, in general, all that good. It was much better late in the second set, but this was only after the band asked that all the bass in one monitor be turned off. Before that there was a steady droning hum. Which was too bad.
Because it kept us from hearing some of the backing vocals, and probably some other functions of the performance—the bass drum, for example.
Nevertheless, this was an entertaining and energetic performance by a well-rehearsed dance band with confidence and more than a few musical assets. It was fitting they played Marshal Tucker’s “Can’t You See,” a haunting old number that gave some variety to the show and associated this performance with many old timers have heard dance bands play in Manhattan.