Harry and The Hit Men ring in the new year by turning back the clock to Motown
It’s been a big year for Motown. In November, Detroit saw an influx of legends perform for one night as the Motown 50 Golden Gala honored the illustrious record label’s half-century birthday. While Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and The Temptations were a few of the revered guests in the house, there was another surprise speaker, a new guy on the block, who gave a headline-making nod to the genre: Giving a message modernly signed, sealed and delivered via video, President Obama said on the big screen that “Motown music made history and captured a truly American sound.”
This week—far in distance and feel from Motown’s original epicenter in Michigan—Santa Cruz is hosting its own gala of sorts to relive the timeless R&B and pop tunes we’ve all moved our lips and hips to. There isn’t anyone who can say they haven’t joined Aretha in spelling out “Respect” (originally penned by Otis Redding) or swayed along with The Temptations for “My Girl,” and nobody in the area knows this better than Harry and The Hit Men.
Unleashing a full production of Motown classics for their third annual New Year’s Eve dance bash at The Crepe Place, starting at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, the ensemble of six young gents is armed with a repertoire of more than 40 songs to pull off more than enough soul to make a skeptic do a double-take. Their countdown into the new decade will pay homage to Motown’s chart-topping history in a three-set evening that fires up the classics with the band’s signature blend of old school soul and experimental, improvisational jam band departures.
The New Year’s Eve show will be brimming with special guests, and Nick Gyorkos (guitar, bass trombone) reveals there will be more horns, more strings, and smaller acts in between the sets. Those in attendance can expect a balloon drop, champagne and noise makers, in addition to smoke, lasers, mirrors and lighting—all manned by Chris Butler of Mind Warp Lighting Productions. Plus, the band’s dipping into a well of new tunes to debut at the concert, which will embrace more rare B-sides and lesser known gems than the outfit has previously tackled. “We like all the songs that pop,” Gyorkos says, “and not all the songs that everybody knows and loves are hard-hitting dance songs.” Drummer Harry Murphy adds, “We’d like to share that music that is equally as good as all the hits, if not better, but haven’t been heard as much.”
While members in Harry and The Hit Men delve into plenty of original songwriting in their other musical projects (Gyorkos and keyboardist Scott Makson feed their inner psych rockers in The Terrible!, while Murphy, singer Rolf Sandmeyer and bassist Jesse Toews explore Sandmeyer’s prog rock songwriting in Electric Remedy), they agree that in their main Motown gig, it’s best to leave the writing to the veterans and limit their original thumbprint to the instrumental tangents. “These are some of the best written songs ever,” Gyorkos says of their Motown set. “Original music would have to be pretty perfect to mix in.”
So if you have an itch to slide, snap your fingers, belt it out from your belly, and step back in time, Harry and The Hit Men are happy bestowing some classic goods—for all the people still reaching out for Mo’.
Harry and the Hit Men perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at The Crepe Place back room, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 429-6994.