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Words and Photos: Courtney Pitman

Two of Baltimore’s finest teamed up for a stellar billing at DC9. Admittedly, I’ve seen Harmonic Blue play several times before, and they proved once more a delightful display of jazz-infused blues rock. Before Harmonic Blue went on the 8-piece soul-dynamo Bosley charged the stage in triumphant fashion, a coordinated army of raging horns and attitude.

Bosley has been playing together for a year and a half almost exclusively in the Baltimore area; with few expectations before seeing them the only thing I could think after their set was: “How are they so good?”

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It’s not just that they’re a charming lot or even that they’re talented musicians. It’s everything. All eight of them looked comfortable crammed onto the DC9 stage, oozing class and confidence in suits embodying their distinctive 60’s throwback feel, complete with two female backing vocalists and even a spattering of pocket squares. They launched the evening huddled on stage with their own pump-up chant before jumping into a heavy mo-town swing, horns raging, ladies side-stepping, each member perfectly in sync.

And then there’s Bosley himself, the titular character and heart of the group, who translates the jazz guitar and saxophone/trumpet solos into a participatory fiasco of dancing, shouting and crowd engagement. In the brief moments the evening felt like a tranquil Monday night at Bohemian Caverns, Bosley ditched his keyboard or guitar and hopped into the crowd all rhythm and frantic two-tone wingtips a-flying, just one cape shy of James Brown’s brand new bag and a pompadour short of Janelle Monae’s tightrope.

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An easy highlight from their set was “Money Tree,” which irresistibly declares “money talks and bullshit walks.” Corny? Sure. But when a manic Bosley leans into the crowd to yell it over background doo-wops it doesn’t really matter. Another highlight, “Sharpshooter,” sounds like a Jackson 5 b-side with a bouncy melody, a falsetto bridge that yields group call and responses, and a dramatic silence and reverb that explodes a wall of percussion.

Midway through the set Bosley announced that the group had just sold their first song to TV. “We’d like to play it to you on one condition: Turn to the person next to you, forget about the band up here and let’s have a dance party.” Strangely enough “Just Like You” is actually a sultry slow burner and one of the least inherently danceable songs from the whole night. Look out for it on Workaholics this spring.

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I talked with Bosley after the show about their next steps and how to carve a road to success in the industry. The bottom line? “We’re fucking good. And I know it.” I’m inclined to agree.

Harmonic Blue closed the evening in calmer fashion, substituting Bosley’s frantic antics with more deliberate jazz/blues rock. The quartet has been playing together for a number of years at the University of Maryland, and their charm shows through in their youth.

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All vested and elbow-padded up, Harmonic Blue is hard to predict. At slower moments they seem perfectly professorial: deliberate and patient as they build out their themes. Other times they trade wailing solos, lighting the syllabus on fire just to bask in the blaze. In between songs they’re fresh-faced, enthusiastic kids skipping class to play music for friends. It’s a funny dynamic that will likely evolve as they keep playing, but for now it works to their favor–as long as listeners invest the time to take in the whole package.

Harmonic Blue typically layers quiet drums, electric guitar, and some fast-finger bass action under singer Zach Field’s vocals, perhaps best embodied in “Subreality,” which features their most accessible elements in one place. The jazz-drums are a steady backdrop as Field croons existentially, the guitar and bass waver throughout the song before building into a midway crescendo, paving the way for guitarist Anthony Ajluni to tear apart the intricately-built construction on grimace-inducing solos. Similarly, their single “Silver Spoon” was a wonderful offering midway through the set.

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Other highlights include every time Gabe Bustos traded his bass for a harmonica, driving the set by laying foundation on intros, swelling the harmonies, and then exploding the pace on solos.

Sizzling covers of Led Zeppelin and the set closer Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” seemed to shock the crowd as the group took on the rock-and-roll classics without warning or reservation. The quick departure from their more reserved tunes to the all-out rock is impressive and indicative of their talent. It’s as if Field’s vocals and the steady jazz-percussion are trying to lull you into a cozy sense of comfort, just because it will be more fun then they douse you with a bucket of water as Ajluni goes ape-shit on electric guitar and Field is suddenly wailing along.

Look out, Baltimore. These bands are for serious.

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More Bosley…

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