Concert Review: Doc Horton’s Jay Street Band @ Jazz on Jay, 08/31/2023

Doc Horton’s business card reads “The Ultimate Motown/Pop-Funk Show Band,” nominally an unlikely choice to wrap up the Jazz on Jay season Thursday – and maybe the sort of soundtrack ideal for a wedding or dark night in a club. In fact, the show did deliver the happy dance party Horton promised in pre-concert info, sunny afternoon and all.

Horton provided the “show” element by himself, a nonstop dynamo of motion and emotion, with electric moves and unwavering vocal power. His band was workmanlike, solid, not showy. A five-piece human jukebox of two guitars, keyboard, bass and drums, they effectively echoed 60s soul and R&B and later disco dance floor numbers: 90-plus minutes of can’t-miss funky faves.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Things started out rocky, though. Drummer Randall Martin was delayed by a roadway mishap, bassist Enoch Thompson missed the first two tunes, and Horton’s vocals were muffled, echoey at first. He soldiered on, however, singing “Don’t Look Back” and “People Get Ready” – both hits by the Temptations. The effect of his falsetto was lost in those two and the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” that followed. But everything was in place, and cooking, in the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

A stretched intro led into another falsetto showcase, “My Girl,” with the crowd getting way into it, singing along with Horton and applauding Dan Goss’s keyboard break.

In Kool & the Gang’s “Ladies Night,” Horton broke it down to just drums and vocal before cueing full power again. He spoke his first extended intro before “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay;” others were oblique or obvious but charmed anyway. As the tune hit full flight, an office-looking guy walking through paused, grinned and danced a few steps alongside a dancing girl, maybe eight years old, then walked on.

Photo by Rudy Lu

And that’s how this music worked: Everybody knew the songs, some sang even without being asked – and Horton wasn’t shy about asking – and folks trying to pass through to or from lunch had to dodge dancers filling the pedestrian mall/street.

Songs sometimes hit in pairs; after Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” (with a good Calvin Young guitar break), they paired up two Smokey Robinson classics: “Just My Imagination,” slow with strings-effect synthesizer washes and a sweet Kyle McClinton guitar solo, then the faster “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Here, Horton urged the band, “Y’all jam,” saying it twice. Now, the songs stretched, with more solos in the mix, and Horton relied less and less on falsetto and sang full voice and full power.

In Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles,” it was “Y’all jam” time again as more and more dancers caught the vibe.

Two “Commodores’ hits paired up: the mid-tempo funk of “Brick House,” then the mellow, slower “Easy.” Horton seemed pleased he’d managed to instigate the dance party he’d sought from the first. But then he slowed the pace with The Band’s ever-dramatic “The Weight,” adding suspense near the end by apparently stopping the proceedings but then revving up again after drinking some water.

Photo by Rudy Lu

“Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” another Temptations classic, brought another singalong as Horton jumped up and down and shouted on the chorus, and both Young and McClinton put their guitars to work; Young playing the wah-wah scratch and McClinton skillfully twisting feed-back through the melody.

If the words “Jazz on Jay” stacked the deck against Horton and crew, few left before the last, sweaty – and distinctly non-jazz – jubilant riffs. Drummer Martin and bassist Thompson hit all the grooves, the solos added color and Horton rocked and revved the crowd.

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