Garage Cuban Band
The Pour House
A few last-minute changes led to an impromptu set from Hit or Miss at the Pour House on Sunday evening. El Grupo de Suelo de San Luis Potosi, a norteño style ensemble based on Johns Island, canceled just before show time, so Joel Timmons and Ward Buckheister of Sol Driven Train saved the evening with their Hit or Miss duo set of reggae/rock originals and improvisations.
Fortunately, things went down on the main stage just as planned, right on time, stylish and groovy. Led by the scratchy, spicy tones of electric guitarist Bill Carson and keyboardist Nathan Koci, the Garage Cuban Band kicked off a dynamic and amusingly noisy set of old Cuban folk and jazz standards and stylish reworkings (many in the "son montuno" and mambo styles). Situated in the middle of the stage (on either side of a teetering stack of small amplifiers), Carson and Koci traded jazzy licks and dissonant phrases, supported by upright bassist Jonathan Gray at stage right and the double-trouble percussion duo of Jack Burg and Ron Wiltrout at stage left.
From their psychedelic, gallop-rhythm openiner through more sparse, slow-rolling folk ballads, rumbas, and slow-dance numbers, the quintet delivered a full, rich sound. A large crowd formed in the main room with the first three songs.
"Buenos Hermanos" — a mid-tempo, two-chord jam that serves as the group's theme song — lit a spark early in the set. All five bandmates sang, "Que bueno, son!" in loose harmony (and in unison) between each verse, closing on a hand-clap stanza. They made it sound and look authentic and natural; they didn't seem like five young white Charleston kids taking a stab at things.
If Koci's and Carson's distorted solos and peppery exchanges added a bit of rock 'n' roll zing to things, Burg and Wiltrout provided the rhythmic foundation. Koci looked like he was conjuring sublime sounds from a Ouija board on a side-turned suitcase. Burg and Wiltrout kept time on variety of hand and mallet instruments. Burg struck the low tones on a congo and tapped a tambourine with a foot pedal while Wiltrout handled bongos, cowbell, shakers, cymbals, and wood blocks. They never stopped tinkering with their percussion toys, which enhanced the fluidity of each song.
One of the slinkiest numbers of the night was an old tune from the 1940s by Cuban composer Arsenio Rodriguez — although it was hard to make out the Spanish lyrics from Carson's singing, which hit the room by way of a single, trebly-toned antique loudspeaker set up behind the band. The mysterious, low-volume lyrics only added to the exotic atmosphere.