Mango gives a Mary Kay smile as she slides across the floor, exposing dimples and pearly-white teeth, her old-fashioned taffeta skirt twitching to the bossa nova beat. John grins back, jumping into the air, then hitting the ground hard with a triumphant smack. Not a hair out of place, he's all shine and butch-wax sheen. Feel that beat, daddy-o. The ambience is smoke, martinis and skinny ties. And the band — the New Morty Show — is keeping the dance floor buzzing. Dapper vocalist Vise Grip saunters to the microphone in his pale yellow suit and matching fedora, with glamorous chanteuse Connie Champagne at his side. Together, they seduce the crowd with beloved chestnuts like “That Old Black Magic.” Soon Morty Okin and his “golden trumpet” pick up the pace with the “Woodchopper's Jump.” The crowd starts hopping again.
Gone are the days of the biker-jacket rockers; fading fast are the mellow grooves of the acid-jazz scene: The latest San Francisco club craze is swing. With Sunday eves at Cafe Du Nord, Tuesdays at the Ace, Thursdays at DNA, frequent extravaganzas at Bimbo's 365 Club and almost nightly doings at the Deluxe, nary an evening passes without a pack of retro-dressed hipsters cutting the rug to the thwumping rhythms of a stand-up bass.
On that tip, the New Morty Show is not to be missed. The only swing band in town fronted by a female/male duo, the duets — featuring Vise's smooth theatrics and Connie's gutsy Keely Smith-style voice — are easily the highlight of every performance.
“We're really lucky. They work so well together,” says Okin. “Vise is a cook onstage and Connie — boy, she can really belt it out.” Those two aside, the Morty Show is an all-star band, composed of local swingers from St. Vitus Dance, the Psychedelic Loungecats, Symon's New Blue Diamonds, Veronica Klaus Heart & Soul Revue, Undercover SKA, Super Diamond, Atomic Cocktail and Brutilicus Maximus, to name just a few.
Most of these players support themselves by keeping their hands in several projects at the same time. These diversions may inhibit the Morty Show's ability to write and rehearse original material, but Okin feels little concern even as record label interest in swing bands increases: “I'm not looking to ever make it off a record deal. I just want to make a comfortable living as a working musician.”
Besides, the New Morty Show largely devotes itself to tributes to the great acts of the 1950s, such as Louis Prima and Sam Butera. “I've always wanted a '50s-style Vegas act — not just a band,” Okin says. “I want a whole show, complete with all the shtick and glitz.” To this end, he may take his band on the road. And what better destination than Las Vegas, ground zero of all that glitters like fool's gold?
“Big hotels are where this music is meant to be played,” Morty says wistfully. “It's at home there.”
The New Morty Show plays an SF02 showcase Fri, May 19, at Bimbo's 365 Club; call 474-0365.