May/June 1994 Issue
Sandroids: Shake the Sheldon (a Concert Review)
by Roy Gokenbach and Deborah Hyland
The Sheldon literally shook on Tuesday, April 12, 1994 with the
sounds of appreciation for the Sandroids. The Sandroids, who call
their music "tribal jazzgrass," went through an eclectic blend of
instruments and musical styles that led the audience to two standing
To say that the Sandroids play jazz, old time, dawg music,
rhumbas, Balkan tunes, bluegrass, and klezmer music might give the
impression that this band can't come up with a cohesive musical style. Somehow,
in spite of the wide range of music, they do have a style all their
own-- "tribal jazzgrass."
The best example is the tune "Escape Velocity," written and
arranged by the group's founder, Sandy Weltman. Billed as a space
journey to a mirror galaxy, the tune explored several musical styles
with the band slipping into jigs and fiddle tunes. What held the piece
together is exactly what gives the band its coher-ence--Weltman's
banjo, providing a segue into each part.
While the banjo held it all together, each band member was
able to contribute solidly to the galactic feel. Guest artist Michele
Isam on soprano sax led the jig, and was joined by Tom Murphy with
impressive skill on the mandolin. Mark Torlina on six string bass
glissed to give the impression of the drone of bagpipes. The presence
of John Wolf on trombone adds to the eclectic feel of this band. Bluegrass
trombone may seem oxymoronic, yet the instrumentation of the Sandroids
incorporates Wolf seamlessly.
Overall, the group seemed well rehearsed and more than capable
of dealing with Weltman's tight arrangements, particularly on "Dark
Shadows" and "Balkan Twirl." In the latter, percussionists Cliff Gokenbach
and Dave Menaar used their different drum kits to execute a tight
call and response.
At one point in the set, the Sandroids were joined by vocalist
Beth Tuttle for a cover of the Pat Matheny tune, "Crooked Road." Tuttle's
voice was rich, deep, almost husky, and seemed to fill the hall. Behind
her, the percussion gave the feel of a car racing down the road, fence
posts flicking by.
If the show had any flaw, it was the distractions provided
by the sound system and cameras. There was a tremendous buzz from
the speakers and it occasionally sounded as if wind were blowing across
the microphones. At one point, the band was asked to stall until
the snafus could be worked out. Only slightly nonplussed, Weltman
and Murphy entertained the audience with "Ragtime Annie" on harmonica
and mandolin. Another acoustic number, "New Roads" was also a refreshing
break from the buzz.
It is difficult to complain about the presence of camera
men creeping around on stage. Cameras are always distracting, but
for the most part, they were kept low. Besides, their presence was
because the show was being taped for a future one-hour special on
the Americana Cable Network, giving the Sandroids some much deserved
Also filmed for the special was the first band of the evening,
the Rob Block trio, with Kim Portnoy and Jim Green. The trio played
five jazz pieces, all written and arranged by Block. They ranged from
composition oriented pieces like "Spherical" to the exciting, technique
Sheldon representative Dale Benz should be commended for
developing a forum where such disparate bands can meet and make connections.
Judging by the number of local musicians in the audience, the series
is already well-respected. John Nolan of Profound Sound has also been
donating his time and effort to ensure the success of the series.