Late on Monday nights a few years back, I would always get an increasingly agitated series of texts from a friend:
you coming to tower?
you said you would come this time
if you don’t come to tower one of these times I will pluck out your eyeballs with a toothpick and garnish my martini with them
I resisted for a long while, citing lame excuses like work, sleep, and a quite reasonable aversion to City Heights. One night I finally gave in, though, and from then on it was pretty much a Monday night routine to make the trip to Tower Bar, order a 20-oz Stone IPA and a whiskey shot, and let Lady Dottie and The Diamonds rock my pants off. Soon I was the one sending threatening texts to friends to come join me.
Good things must end, however, and so noise complaints and some ridiculous cabaret license issues recently forced the band to move their Monday night residency to U-31 in North Park. They still consistently pull off a great show in their new digs, but having witnessed them in their element (a weekly spectacle that once got Tower written up in Spin as one of the top four music venues in San Diego), it’s hard not to miss the packed, sweaty dancing that would often spill into the band’s tiny space on the floor. The much larger U-31, with its raised stage and spacious floor, may be more appropriate for the size of the audience, but it loses that intimacy.
On the bright side, two major benefits have emerged from the shake-up. First, U-31 is right around the corner from Bar Pink, whose new house band The Styletones bring a similar dance-funk flavor. The combination of these great bands playing within earshot of each other promises to light up North Park as the place to grab a buzz and shake it out on a Monday night. The second positive development is that both places are within three blocks of my house.
The best part is, you can actually hear The Styletones from my doorstep. Walking toward the bar, you’ll probably catch the word “boogaloo” coming from somewhere in there, and I can guarantee you’ll hear the phrase “shake your money maker.” Then when you get inside and see singer Stevie Harris decked out in all white from hat to shoes, with stunna shades and a massive hunk of gold on his pinky, you’ll realize that any dude rocking that much style has complete license to belt out whatever old-school soul lyrics he damn well feels like.
On weeknights, Bar Pink is at its best with minimal True North spillover and a diverse, relatively D-bag-free crowd. You’ll see dreads, flannels, and tats, but also regular bros in T-shirts and the occasional suit, and the girls are hipster chic, very cute, and smiling. The crowd in back is chill, playing classic arcade games and occasionally even a game of dominoes in the back vinyl booth, but up front it’s a party. I noticed a couple regulars up there dancing the third or fourth time I went — woops, I guess that makes me a regular, too — and once in a while one of the guys actually break-dances.
Harris blows the lid off every show, punctuating verses with scratchy shouts and soulful howls. He spends more time in the crowd than on-stage, wandering deep into the bar to exchange high fives and graciously accept constant wheelbarrows of booty that the ladies place lovingly on his lap, one right after another.
The rest of the band is packed with talent drawn from a long list of legit former groups including the Karl Denson Trio. The horn section is booming, so you better bring a pair of earplugs if you don’t want to get yourself whapped upside the head with a blaring trumpet and have your ears ringing for a week. A sax, trombone, bass, guitar, keys, and the big cat on drums round out a soul revival sound, following in the footsteps of other recent renaissance soul groups like the Dap-Kings or Raphael Saadiq, but minus the R & B crooning. The Styletones don’t dabble as much in blues and classic rock influences as Lady Dottie down the street; they stick instead to relentless horn-driven funk and James Brown front-man antics more reminiscent of The King Khan & BBQ Show. They blast hard, ass-dropping funk straight through the set, and it feels like love.
The crowd sends the love right back. It doesn’t hurt that their name is well-suited to the call-and-response Stevie Harris loves to dish out (“Say Style-tones” Style-tones!). In one of Harris’s countless floor walks a random guy grabbed the mic and yelled “This is the best shit! The best shit I’ve seen in San Diego, ever!” That’s a bold statement, Mr. Superfan, but Styletones are a damn good time, and I swear if my friends don’t answer my texts and get their asses out of bed one of these Monday nights, I’ll be drinking some eyeball martinis.