There is a big difference between a singer and a performer. There are many talented vocalists who lack stage presence; conversely, in the present day, emphasis seems to have shifted in favor of style (how a singer moves and looks) over substance (the quality of their voice). Tomi Rae Brown of the band Hardly Dangerous is one of those who have both the pipes and the moves.
Hardly Dangerous is a band that has been around for many years with different lineups. The core members of the band have always been Sheri Weinstein on drums, Beth-Ami Heavenstone playing bass, and lead vocalist Brown. Joining the group for the gig was guitarist Conrad Pesinato, an accomplished player who fit in nicely with his talented rhythm and lead work.
Brown is truly one of the most dynamic, electric performers one could ever hope to witness onstage—and actually, offstage too! Quickly abandoning the mic stand early in the gig, at times she would sidle up to Heavenstone and playfully nudge and put her arms around her. Then she’d be on her knees, eyes closed, singing with all the emotion and passion she could muster. She would frequently reach out over the edge of the stage towards the audience, holding the vocal mic out. One time, she abandoned the stage completely, and went walking through the club while still singing. Other times, she lay flat on her back onstage, looking skyward. We’ve all seen front persons do those kinds of moves, and often it comes off as contrived and overdramatic. In this case—which makes it all the more impressive—Brown’s stage act looked to be a genuine part of her personality.
The band’s music is basic, solid, straight-ahead 80’s hard rock. Sweeter Than Honey, Take Me To The Mountain, Tijuana Taxi…they’ve been playing these songs for years (the band has been around since the 80’s), but good songs performed well are timeless. A highlight of the show was when Brown introduced a song she wrote for her late husband, the famous R&B singer James Brown. She sang the entire number with her eyes closed, and everyone in The Whisky could both see the pain and memories in her face and hear it in her voice.
Midway through the band’s set, she told the audience they were in for a special treat, and called singer Graham Bonnet to the stage. Having the opportunity to see someone in a small club who has played the biggest arenas as a member of Rainbow and the Michael Schenker Group was a rare treat. Bonnet did two songs as a duet with Brown: The Beatles Come Together, and the classic Badfinger song No Matter What. The two songs were what could be charitably described as a “loose jam”: Kind of sloppy, but fun to watch at the same time. (Hey, it’s rock n’ roll, right?)
After Bonnet did his thing, he sat on the stairs leading to the upper floor of the club and watched the band complete the remainder of their set…no doubt as fascinated as the rest of the audience.