The Drive-In Romeos fulfill a longing to connect with the purity of the mid-century United States. Listen to them long and you feel like watching American Graffiti, enjoying a root-beer float and snacking on Jiffy-Pop after burning yourself on the stove.
Their outdoor concerts sometimes look like a Cherry’s Jubilee thanks to all the classic cars. Audiences from a variety of demographics and generations jive to their mid-century repertoire of tunes ranging from ’40s jump-jazz to ’50s rock and roll to ’60s R&B.
The band is committed to taking audiences through that time warp. They “dress to the nines” in vintage suits, says bass player Mark Garza, use parts of old cars as set pieces and play some vintage instruments, like Garza’s upright bass.
Drive-In Romeos also includes Mike Gonzales (drums) and Ray Williams (saxophone). The fact they are each family men emerges in frontman Don Gonzales’ approachably clean lyrics.
Don Gonzales says that car culture was “bred into him” by his parents. His father “always had custom cars,” he says, adding he owned his own by the time he was 12.
One of their most popular tunes, “She’s My Baby,” is about Don Gonzales’ wife. Garza tugs on the strings on his bellowing upright bass, while Williams’s saxophone thrives on a quick pace as Garza keeps hitting aerial high notes.
Gonzales’ lyrics incorporate period colloquialisms as he dips deeper into the tune. “My baby’s kisses are sweet as wine/ Don’t get it twisted/ She’s my dime.”
Not to be confused with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s interpretation of a raucous jazz song by the same name, Don Gonzales and Garza say their popular song “Go Daddy O” is an anthem for their retro lifestyle. Whereas a majority of the group’s catalogue belongs among Richie Valens and Buddy Holly 45s, “Go Daddy O” is quintessential swing. It is a chaotic exhibit of instrumental aptitude, most notably a guitar shredding solo by Don Gonzales as he sings and shakes about a “45 Ford running down the line.”
The opening instrumentals to “Dance the Night Away” initially sound like modern rock, but as soon as Gonzales begins singing, the song conjures the Elvis era. Lyrics predict your body will start “to wiggle like it ain’t ever going to stop.”
Storied Cannery Row venue Sly McFly’s in Monterey, with its ample dance floor and car memorabilia decor, provides a fitting feel-good spot for a drive-in this Saturday night.
DRIVE-IN ROMEOS 9pm Saturday, Aug. 22, Sly McFly’s, 700 Cannery Row, Monterey. 649-8050.