by Dan Williams
Friday was beautiful in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It was hot and crowded with not a cloud in the sky all day. The beach was wall to wall umbrellas and the aroma of Coppertone was everywhere. The restaurants, bars, and pizza shops were jammed. It was a perfect day in one of the nicest beach towns on the East Coast.
As the sun was going down and the sun bathers were packing up, many stayed for a free hot set from Philly’s original swing/jazz band Swing That Cat. The Cats are busting down doors regionally gaining notoriety as a fun, take no prisoners, good time band experience. In 2016, they were even invited to open for international sensation Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Fronted by the charismatic and sexy Michele Peraino, Swing That Cat set the tone for the night by opening with the rhythmic mid-tempo jazz house “Bright Lights Late Nights.” Peraino has the perfect stage presence and welcoming manner to lead a band of this type. She playfully lifts up all players on the stage as well as audience members all the way to the back of the house. She possesses a very wide range in her vocals from sultry deep smoky notes all the way up to a high register perfect for faster, lighter tunes.
The band is loaded with very talented players, starting with acclaimed flutist Hugh Luck. The band playfully refers to Luck as “lead guitarist” of the group. One listen and that makes sense. He is Ian Anderson and The Pied Piper rolled into one fantastic performer. With his top notch playing and wireless rig, he finished the show wandering through the crowd while playing, stopping to interact with audience members.
Joining him on “real guitar” is Chris Peraino. Musically, he sports a large hollow body electric with big mastered sounds from the forties and fifties. Think Stray Cats and you’ll get the idea. Chris manages every facet of the group and gets to go home with the lead singer!
The percussion section is electric with Krupa-like gymnastics flying off the skins of drummer Rich Flamini. He’s the newest member of the band and comes with the perfect pedigree as drummer for the Bill Haley, Jr. and the Comets touring band. Working alongside Flamini is the energetic and jazz influenced Pat Ream on stand-up bass, both acoustic and electronic. Together they get the joint jumping, especially on show stopper “Leap Up Off Your Seat.”
The two-piece horn section with Rick Yensen (trumpet/trombone) and Len Defrank (reeds/sax) are so multi-dimensional that they can effortlessly propel the group from 40’s Swing to New Orleans Dirge. No electronics, no loops, no artificial sounds from the keyboard … just honest to goodness old school talent.
The other major part of the band is the audience. All ages of listeners were on their feet dancing and shouting for encores. It was fun watching exhausted beachgoers crossing the boardwalk heading to their cars at the end of a long day in the sun. Once they came within earshot of Swing That Cat, they stopped, started bouncing and smiling broadly. That’s what this band and their sound is all about.
While most tunes are originals in their varied styles, the band tossed in a few covers including the ever popular “Mambo Italiano.” Most notable was the unplanned encore and crowd pleasing “I Put a Spell on You” ending the show with a standing ovation. It was the perfect tune to end with.
This is a tight, hot, disciplined band that can jump. But the show belongs to the charming and happy Michele Peraino. She is larger than life as she commands unwavering attention from the crowd. Like the best performers, by the end of the set one feels they just shared a moment with her and know her personally. I think that is the greatest praise one can heap on an entertainer.
Look for their new CD, 3 To Get Ready – 4 To Go! Selections are currently streaming on SoundCloud and available on CD Baby and Bandcamp. It will soon be on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.