There’s a nightclub, and you’re in it. Maybe it’s 1942. Maybe it’s last week. Maybe it’s tomorrow. That doesn’t matter. The smell of incense fills the room. Onstage you see the internationally known Slim Richey, “The Most Dangerous Guitarist in Texas.” A lesser man might be referred to as “elderly.” Richey is tall, gaunt, with an epic white beard and a red fedora. From his hollow-body guitar he coaxes sweet jazz sounds, his hands gentle yet assertive — snapping off lush chords with fingers and thumbs. This is what the Jitterbug Vipers from Austin are like.
On vocals there’s Sarah Sharp. Willowy and blonde, she slips and slides around with her sibilant esses like Billie Holiday. She coos; she hollers; she’s sultry. But Sharp can still have fun with a goofy little ditty called “Hot As Hell.” On bass — all teeth and dyed-red hair — is the awesomely named Francie Meaux Jeaux, who has played with the likes of Dan Hicks and Michelle Shocked. Behind the skins is Masumi Jones, “The Tokyo Tsunami.” Jones plays those drums like a tropical storm. She stops, she starts, she’s gentle and she’s hard.
One minute the Vipers transport you to another time, a smoky jazz club or gin joint. The next, they’re all tom-toms and energy, reminding you that punk is an idea that knows no genre or era. In the band’s own words, the Jitterbug Vipers are “swingadelic” and when the group plays, somehow, here, Jerry Garcia hands Count Basie a joint and says, “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”