Danny Carey is taking up half the stage with his drum kit. It’s not of the same magnitude as what he uses with Tool, but tonight Carey is performing to one per cent of the people he would play to in his other job. It’s big enough that his bandmate Jimmy Earl – who plays in TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s live band – is forced to manoeuvre his Fender from the floor next to the stage, swinging it skilfully around a few of the 100 audience members’ heads. They’re not complaining, but their faces suggest they’re as wary as anyone that a bass guitar to the head is gonna hurt.
This pokey little jazz den is not hosting The Danny Carey Show, however. Doug Webb is a storied Hollywood musician – he plays Lisa’s sax on The Simpsons among his intimidatingly long list of performances – and leads the band alternately on tenor or soprano saxophone while the crowd buzz around and peruse the impressive list of baked potato combos on offer. It’s as low-key and on-the-fly as it should be in this venue. Relaxed, but not louche, a glance and a nod later and the quintet slide comfortably into a free jazz jam.
It’s incredible to see the band sink into the music. John Ziegler – Carey’s bandmate in Volto – uses his tape machine delay effects brilliantly, Carey himself thunders through a minute that makes you wonder how much he dumbs himself down for Tool, and then, while they’re playing songs such as a John Coltrane ballad from sheet music, the players perform with effortless ease and joy. They all get their moment to shine, and each takes it. When Webb takes over the lead on that Coltrane number after an exhilarating wonky jazz performance from keyboardist Mitch Forman, there are nods and smiles between the other band members as the music, and the emotion, takes over. Webb finishes with a flourish as he seemingly regains consciousness from his solo session, wiping tears from his eyes.
It’s NAMM week in SoCal, so there are some other musicians in town. One of whom is Ben Thomas, erstwhile vocalist for the Dweezil Zappa band. Joining the Webb All Stars for their encore of Led Zeppelin’s Take Me Home is a nice moment, but nothing out of the ordinary. These guys know people, and ultimately they’re just happy to play. They’re here every month, after all.