Royal Jelly Jive at the Sweetwater Music Hall, by Carolyn McCoy
Royal Jelly Jive (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

It’s my first time experiencing the Sonoma County jazzy-cabaret, soul-filled band Royal Jelly Jive. I have heard good things about them over the years but I was unfamiliar with their vibe, music, and sound until now. My initial thoughts on the first five minutes of their Sweetwater Music Hall gig are as follows: “Holy shit, they are so fun!” and “Horns! I love it when a band has horns!” and “What? Who is this badass singer? WTF?”

The singer is Lauren Bjelde, founding member and co-songwriter for Royal Jelly Jive. My first vision of her began as she slinked and shimmied up to the microphone like a diaphanous angel in all her sensual and vibrant glory, solid and present with her world onstage. She smiled a smile that lit up the room and then she sang — oh how she sang! Her voice is a combination of any number of soulful singers, but that combination only makes her voice her own: girlish and shy one minute, a soulful and full-force wail and everything in between the next, all while her band holds space for her voice to tell the stories with reckless abandon.

In the band, there is the dynamic and playful horn section of Robby Elfman on sax and clarinet and Luke Zavala on trombone, the back beat of bassist Tyden Binsted and drummer Felix Macnee who both uplift the music with a relaxed precision, and then there is Jesse Lemme Adams, whose ability to simultaneously play the keyboards while rocking an accordion or guitar (plus write songs and sing as well) is something most of us multitaskers only dream of. There is a groove and jive with the band as a whole, and their true showmanship shines through with blinding light.

Now, as I am suppose to be reviewing this show, I should be in the know about the song titles and such, but alas, I will be honest: I have no set list to go by, and as the band is new to me, I know not the names of their songs. But does that matter? Maybe. Maybe not. As the titles of the songs will only inform you of what was played and will not give you an idea about the energy set forth by this six-piece groove machine whose plethora of original songs are such a mish-mash of genres that your head will spin while you fall in love with the music. I will let you know that their versions of the Rascals’ “Groovin” and Peggy Lee’s sultry and sexy “You Give Me Fever” were done as if I had never heard them before. The freshness of the covers made them new to my ears even though I have heard them hundreds of times.

I will let you know that their songs are sexy, sensual, alive and filled with imagery and depth. I will state that the band’s encore was a big-band-jazz-jump-jive mosh pit in the middle of the dance floor with members of the opening band, Gypsy-Klezmer maestros the Turbans. With the audience in a circle around them all, cheering, clapping, dancing and singing, it was a sonic orgy of sound, love, and joy.