The Eight Track Players

“We’re called The Eight Track Players because we take you waaay back,” says keytar-wielding frontman Curtis Williams of his fun and funky five-man ensemble. It’s a rare mid-set interjection; he and the other band members keep their crowd colloquy to a minimum.

Focusing on the music while living up to the nostalgic promise of their namesake, they whisk audiences way back with K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s 1975 “Boogie Shoes,” transitioning without pause into Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 “The Message.”

By this time, there’s not a still bone in the house. Kahale’s Saturday night patrons—some with hands held high, wrists bobbing to the kick of Jerry Byer’s bass lines—chime along: “Don’t push me/’Cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head.” Yet all in attendance are already well over the edge. The Eight Track Players have lit a fire under every foot.

Just after 10pm—more than two hours into sweating and singing along—the joint feels past capacity. Seated at the bar are Kahale’s biker-regulars, in well-worn leather vests emblazoned with insignia, who nod their heads as lefty guitarist Phil Ellison belts 1986’s “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” For an imposing man who looks as if he’d be more at home on the defensive line than the Mason-Dixon, Ellison’s surprisingly Southern intonation would make the Georgia Satellites themselves jealous.

Hunkered down next to the bikers are rhythmically endowed, black-clad dreadies, who in turn sit next to snowbird couples painted with genuine, glaze-eyed smiles—their thinning, light-dyed coiffures aglow like halos that waft slightly as their shoulders shimmy to Prince’s 1986 hit “Kiss” and M.’s 1979 “Pop Muzik.”

Well-styled young people saunter in, enraptured by The Eight Track Players’ renditions of Earth Wind & Fire’s 1974 “Shining Star,” or Michael Jackson’s 1982 “Billie Jean,” and immediately hit the dance floor. They squeeze in alongside other revelers without stopping so much as to set down their purses, let alone order a drink.

But the drinks flow, thanks to the good attendance of a single waitress and single bartender, who work the tables with fluidity. Toward the back near the pinball machine there’s a table of local professional-types, who beg to be pegged as hardworking CPAs-pau hana, plus another table twice as big with couples who look to be longtime Kiheians, bearing sun-bleached hair and leathery tans. They smile and sing to “Word Up!”, the 1986 club hit by Cameo, and Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 “Voodoo Chile.”

Vince Esquire bassist Shawn Michael is also among the night’s admirers, chilling in back on the ivory upholstered bench seats, with his girlfriend Fasha. Michael makes a fist and mimes mashing it into the table top. “I give ’em my stamp of approval. Vince and I are always talking them up—they’re great.”

Tonight however, The Eight Track Players need no talking up. They elicit an energy from the crowd that is rarely rivaled—especially for a cover band.

“The girls helped us a lot,” guitarist Chris Limos later tells me with a smile, after finishing packing up his natural wood-finished Fender Stratocaster. He refers to what began with a solitary, pigtailed blonde who cheered from the onset as if she were a band member’s enthusiastic new bride. Though alone at first, with every passing song, her friends arrived. And they all could dance.

Outside the bar, “the girls” and I chat during the band’s only break. “Write that they’re awesome! Capital A-W-E-S-O-M-E, exclamation point,” raves the pigtailed maiden. Striking her hand in front of her four times as she illustrates the quantity of punctuation, she continues, “There’s that one guy,” she describes the tall, dark Ellison, “he doesn’t look up at the crowd much, but he’s hot. Good, too—but hot.”

The briny dank of a warm Kihei night clings mercilessly to lungs and skin and the streetlamp-illuminated haze hangs thick, but it’s not enough to mask the music. A hefty tourist family crosses the parking lot as the ensemble strikes up again. The women of the troupe giggle and dance toe to heel as Byer’s thumbed resonation coupled with Gino Morelli’s drum rolls from his hand-crafted kit (literally all but the floortom are of his own making), cut through Kahale’s louvered, makai-facing windows.

The visiting womens’ husbands and sons avert their eyes, trying not to see the way their wahine beg to turn around and head inside. If only they knew what they were passing by: a well-oiled time machine that’s hovered slightly under the radar for a half-decade, with a set-list as varied as snowflakes (they claim it’s never, ever the same).

The band closes with a lengthy (and begged-for) hana hou, appropriately kicked off with Prince’s 1984 “Purple Rain.” Post-show, I’m back outside, this time with the band. It’s well past 11pm, but the progression of the night has tempered some of the earlier heat.

Leaning on the fender of an old Toyota Land Cruiser, Williams says, “We’re the freshest old school band.” Limos, taking a seat next to him, laughs. “That’s an oxymoron!”

“The art of comparison,” replies Williams.

“The art of comprehension,” says Limos, again chuckling.

Thus—as I head home happy, sweat-soaked and a little lit—I comprehend that The Eight Track Players are fun and funky and funny. Anu Yagi, MauiTime

The Eight Track Players
Next Gigs: Pride of Maui, Thursday, December 31, 10pm; Kahale’s, Saturday, January 2, 7:30pm