Soft at the Sunset Tavern

Let me declare my interests up front: Chris Lorraine contributes to this section, and he and his wife, Shannon, aka the Withholders, are friends of mine. So when I went to Soft, the night they hosted at the Sunset Tavern on Thursday, Oct. 13, I planned to leave their band out of the review entirely. As it turns out, I missed them anyway—indeed, I missed a lot of the performances, having arrived shortly before 11 p.m. with the idea that the soft-rock-covers soiree wouldn’t get going until around then. As the songs performed that night might have told me, it’s never too early for romance, however secondhand.

The Sunset was a lot more crowded than I (or the organizers) expected when I arrived during Crown Aruba’s set, catching a finale of “Reunited” (Peaches & Herb, 1979) arranged to resemble “Iko Iko”—shaker, washboard, triangle, no stringed instruments. As soon as they left the stage, there was a costume contest, where the idea was to dress like a Three’s Company casting call. (The male winner, Bill, sported a reversible vest, very ski lodge, while Brynn, the female victor, wore a hooded leather jacket with a collar that Dracula would have rejected as overdramatic.) Next, the Leisure Suits, featuring members of Central Services and Math & Physics Club, utterly killed—softly. “Summer Breeze” (Seals & Crofts, 1972), “Make It With You” (Bread, 1970), “Dancing in the Moonlight” (King Harvest, 1973)—all so scarily faithful a few of us began thinking M&PC ought to ditch the Brit-twee for something a little more Southern California (coke-twee?), especially when they finished with “Rise” (Chuck Mangione, 1979), which owned the crowd even if it wasn’t up to Mangione’s mellifluousness (and with Mangione, mellifluousness is all).

Joe Howe, the Sunset’s bartender, played solo acoustic, serenading his wife and fellow bartender, Mandy, with, what else, “Mandy” (Barry Manilow, 1974), and getting distracted by his sister’s arrival during “Cat’s in the Cradle” (Harry Chapin, 1974). (“Dude,” Chris Lorraine said of my prediction that solo acoustic + soft-rock-covers night = Dan Fogelberg, “you smelled Fogelberg and you got Chapin.”) The crowd was very attentive during Howe’s set, partly because they were so used to hearing “Mandy” and “The Things We Do for Love” (10cc, 1977) as records they’d never paid attention to the lyrics, and partly because Howe had gotten them thoroughly plastered.

The final act was Dear John Letters, who seemed pretty plastered themselves. They boogied plenty, unusually, with Johnny Sangster belting “He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother)” (Hollies, 1969) while Robb Benson danced like Bez (Happy Mondays, 1987–92). After they finished with “Sundown” (Gordon Lightfoot, 1974), the crowd was led in a sing-along with “Afternoon Delight” (Starland Vocal Band, 1976). I always knew the song was dirty, but until then, I had no idea it contained just about the unsexiest word of all time: rubbin.’