“If anyone needs any papers typed just ask Julien—he does like 300 words per minute,” joked Hot Club Of Detroit’s lead guitarist and front man Evan Perri after a blazing solo from their accordionist Julien Labro. He plays the traditional chromatic button accordion, which has five rows of circular buttons (kind of like an old typewriter) as opposed to the piano keyboard you may be more used to seeing.
Hot Club Of Detroit started the evening by chugging right into a fast swinging thing where Labro was able to demonstrate his virtuosity with incredibly fast bop licks juxtaposed with bluesy riffs and eerie stabs poking holes in the very flesh of the texture. The mesh of sound created by Perri and rhythm guitarist Paul Brady sits on top of Shawn Conley’s steadfast bass lines, while Labro’s accordion sort of weaves in and out.
Perri and Brady both play on Selmer-style guitars, which tie them to Django Reinhardt’s tradition, and their technique does the same. Perri, like Labro, is a virtuosic proponent of his instrument, and the two of them have an unrivaled ability to pass melodies and riffs back and forth without a hitch. The group drew on classic Reinhardt tunes like “Belleville” and “Troublant Bolero,” but also strayed at times from the gypsy sound with originals like “Gabriel.”
From their newest album, Junction, “Gabriel” is Labro and Perri’s ode to Peter Gabriel, and you can hear that in the earthy, new-age, reflective sound it conveyed as it opened. The guitar and melodica locked up on a line while the second guitar outlined a theme. Then, departing from the fresh airy intro, they chugged into a bluegrassy groove with a guitar solo over it.
Hot Club actually played tunes from their entire catalog. After their take on “Belleville” that saw Labro playing so fast that his fingers literally spiraled around the buttons, Perri joked “Now we’re going to play something fast. . . . Just kidding, we’re going to take a turn here and play some musette-style music from our first album entitled Passion.” The musette style is marked by its 3/4 time, and it maintains the oom-pah feel of many an old European waltz. The two musette tunes of the evening were also the shortest, as the group did not really stray from the melody or stretch them out, but rather let the pieces stand on their own.
After playing an original called “Goodbye Mr. Anderson,” by their saxophonist Jon Irabagon (absent this particular evening), they received a standing ovation and cries for an encore. Even though they all seemed to be spent, they obliged as Perri said, “No, this is good because I’ve wanted to play this one all day,” as they slowed it down for one last moaning Django composition called “Si Tu Savais,” which means “If You Only Knew” and sounds like it’s saying just that.
The Hot Club were on day 10 of an 11-day tour, and they claimed to be a bit tired, but you never would have known it because they played as hot as their name would imply.