Sweet Home Kihei

I discovered Vince Esquire out of sheer luck a couple months back, when I needed something to take my mind off my pub quiz team’s second-place ranking. 

The bar across the way—Kahale’s—seemed like it was about to shimmy off its foundation. It was absolutely packed. I sensed some serious rock and roll, which is pretty rare on Maui. Promising myself I would leave the second I heard the opening bars of “Sweet Home Alabama,” I decided to check them out.

Before crossing the threshold I could tell this was not just some cover band, more than three young dudes wailing on their instruments between shots.

Initially they reminded me of Blue Cheer, the unsung progenitors of metal, acid rock and stoner rock whose version of “Summertime Blues” blows even the Who’s “Live at Leeds” take on the tune away.

The dance floor was engorged.

To say that Esquire is an awesome guitar player is a pitiful understatement. To say “man, that guy is a fucking machine!” misses the point.  His solos are wildly creative, going well beyond the pentatonic with the occasional flatted fifth thrown in. Yet while they are intricate and betray years spent scaling the scales, unlike many young guitar players he allows his solos a little breathing room.

“It’s about tastefully playing as opposed to playing as fast you can,” Esquire said.

Of course, it takes more than thoughtful, well-paced soloing to draw the kind of crowds these guys bring in. This incredibly tight three-piece band consists of players whose skill and style complement each other uncommonly well.

Bass player Shawn Michael’s skills are apparent yet understated; it’s obvious that he can clear the most strenuous of Claypool-esque feats if a song warrants it but he’s no showoff. 

Drummer Josh Greenbaum is truly solid. Forgive the comparison, but his playing reminds me of Cream’s Ginger Baker.

I may have been the only one in the bar that didn’t know that the band is an important element of Maui’s music scene. 

“At some point we’ve played at every place on this island,” Esquire said, though his resume extends well beyond the Valley Isle.

Esquire is one of those musicians who can probably shred on any instrument he picks up and was seen as a prodigy when he started gigging on Maui as a teenager. Now 23, his career has taken him to Austin, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Last year, after opening for Gregg Allman on Maui, Allman asked him to join the Allman Brothers’ summer tour. If that wasn’t enough to make 2007 a kickass year for Esquire, he and Michael’s other band, Kanekoa, were also featured in a Ben Stiller flick. 

Esquire lists Stevie Wonder as a major influence, which is evident in his originals as well as the Wonder medley the band often performs. Coltrane is another, he says. Yet much of the band’s inspiration derives from local sources. Tom Conway of Gypsy Pacific, Willie K, Uncle Don, Bob Harrison, and Kanoa of Gomega are among the guys’ list of major influences. It was Kanoa, Michael said, who taught Michael to play live bass.

We’re lucky enough to have a chance to see these guys four to five times a week. But if you’re looking for the same old skull-gnawing Skynyrd covers you may want to stay home. MTW