Live Shots: Har Mar Superstar at Bottom of the Hill

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Have you ever heard of a snowball? (Not the frozen thing, the sugary treat, or some kind of sex act). I’m talking about the totally wholesome retro swing dance thing in which eager dancers surround a couple or two on the floor. The band yells out “snowball!” and the dancers separate and grab someone else from the outer circle. “Snowball!” again and the circle widens, leading eventually to concentric circles of revelers swishing and swirling to live music.

Last night at Bottom of the Hill, Har Mar Superstar -- the Minnesota-bred soulful R&B and pop singer -- led the eager Tuesday night crowd in a rapidly devolving snowball. On first mention he yelled out, “It’s called a snowball! Go roller skating once 25 years ago!” And then continued to nudge the audience to keep finding new partners: “snowball!” “Snowball again!”

If you’ve ever been to a rock’n’roll show in San Francisco, particularly on a lazy Tuesday night, you’ll note the lack of expression and movement from the crowd. It can be jarring. At Har Mar’s headlining show, there were smiles plastered on faces, loud guffawing laughs, and actual group dancing. Plus on the stage, Har Mar and his backing crew -- guitarist Jeff “Catfish” Quinn, a drummer who I believe was Will Scott, and bassist Denver Dalley (Desaparecidos) -- performed synchornized dancing themselves in the style of James Brown.  (Har Mar saves his R. Kelly moves for solo poses.)

A longstanding performer, known both for his powerful pipes -- a cross between Sam Cooke, King Khan, and Joey McIntyre -- and affinity for getting naked on stage, Har Mar displayed some of that noted maturity last night at his show, the stuff he talked with me about in the paper last week, which grew from his excellent new record, Bye Bye 17 (Cult Records).

He was still Har Mar. He shook, shimmied, posed provocatively, ordered five shots of Patron from the bar, and yes, removed layers of clothing eventually, but there was a heightened front person glitz to his stage show, and he commanded attention and respect in a way I’ve never seen. And the crowd ate it up, hooting and hollering back to him, chanting “Har Mar, Har Mar!” He’s witty, and joked back, “oh, you want more Har Mar? Lucky for you I’m here.”

He first walked out on stage in a fringed white leather jacket and his traditional tight red jeans, eventually shedding that layer for a graphic sweater and a glittery cape, and then finally showed off his greased Buddha belly by the near-end of the night. With the full band, not just his usual sampler (which also was present, and provided beats and backup vocals) his songs came alive, rooted in deep soul, ‘90s R&B, and sometimes, boy band pop. The group opened with “Girls Only,” and played Bye Bye 17’s swelling first single “Lady You Shot Me” pretty early on. The audience response to “Lady, You Shot Me” was heartening -- people there like the new record!

Through the hour-long set Har Mar treated new fans and old to a range of tracks from his back catalogue including clubby “DUI,” (off 2004’s The Handler, Record Collection), Bye Bye 17’s funky “Restless Leg,” and crush-worthy popper “Almond Joy,” off 2009’s Dark Touches (MRI).

He toed the line between sensual showman and early raunchmaster well, treating audience members to tender moments like the snowball spin, and nasty little tidbits sprinkled throughout with a knowing wink.

Of “Almond Joy,” Har Mar explained  "this song’s about candy and fucking.” Too sweet!

All photos by Charles Russo.

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