Victoria-based prohibition-era swing jazz band The Capital City Syncopators brings sounds of the past to those begging for danceable rhythms. The band began weekly performances at Swans Brewpub about a year ago.
“Swans has had live music most nights since the late ’80s,” says banjo player and vocalist Avram McCagherty. “It’s a place for us to keep it together. It’s a paid rehearsal, if you like.”
McCagherty is joined by a group of talented musicians, including sousaphone player Don Cox, guitarist/vocalist Reuben Wier, drummer Matt Pease and lap steel guitarist/vocalist Chris Herbst (whom you can catch at Swans every Sunday playing the dobro with The Moonshiners). Aside from musicianship, The Capital City Syncopators play in style, wearing wardrobes straight out of Boardwalk Empire. With influences like the Marc Atkinson Trio and Django Reinhardt, it’s hard not to wonder about their creative process.
“There’s a large diversity within the group. There’s the odd original tune that will make its way, but often what we are doing is using an old canvas as a vessel. We take old standards and try and improvise and do something new with it,” says McCagherty.
The band often takes popular songs from the ’80s and syncopates them back to the sound of the ’20s. “Syncopation is another word for swing — it’s about how you feel the rhythm,” says McCagherty. “When you are playing with a banjo, a tuba and a Hawaiian slide guitar, ‘Sunglasses at Night’ sounds kind of funny. The melodies are sweet; it’s nice.”
Prohibition and the Great Depression caused a migration that led to a greater dispersal of jazz music across the continent; as a result, the Jazz Age helped people shake off the Depression. “It was the pop music of its day, and it’s very danceable, and people like that,” says Cox. “It was the music of youth . . . no one had heard it before.”
The Capital City Syncopators blend the historic with the modern, and there’s nothing quite like hearing the sound of a foregone era up close and live. McCagherty admits that the band’s approach to the songs they cover is a bit different. “We just [decided to] do something weird, but the sum of its parts turned out to be really beautiful. It kind of surprised us,” says McCagherty. “There’s really good live music out there,” he adds. “If you’re single, [you] don’t have kids and you don’t have to wake up at seven in the morning, then we expect you to do your cultural duty by being in the bar ’til midnight!”
The Capital City Syncopators
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
Swans Brewpub (506 Pandora Ave.)