The Coffee Shop, Walnut Creek, draws a certain type–the type with high-laced Doc Martens, floppy sun hats, and mason jar drinks. At least for tonight, I don’t fit in here (I’m not cool enough). However, I’m only here for The Coffee Shop’s weekly open mic, Fridays from 6:00 PM. Tonight, The Humble Cats are setting up. With Kevin Taniguchi, vocalist and ukulele player, Dalton Boswell, guitarist, Shane Louis, bassist, Jess Taylor, alto saxist/clarinetist/flutist, and Robert Caniglia, percussionist, The Humble Cats are an island style, reggae, and hip hop group from Southern California.
There isn’t much of a crowd–in fact, those who were doing work behind a laptop are quickly packing up until Taniguchi tells them, into the mic, “No, wait, don’t go!” They glance nervously around the room, and sit back down. But the rest of his audience seem to know each other, and they clap enthusiastically as Taniguchi opens with his first song, “The Soundcheck Song.” For the most part, he seems to freestyle the lyrics, weaving rhymes, spinning out verses that, although they don’t make much sense, sound interesting and musically complex. His ukulele is plugged in, strummed chords accompanying his vocals.
“So, I don’t know the name of this next song, but some of you might,” he begins. Taniguchi begins a cover of what I recognize as “Apologize” by One Republic, and grins sheepishly when his wife pulls up the lyrics on her phone and places it on his music stand. Nevertheless, this is a version of “Apologize” that’s unique–even when it’s played on a ukulele. It’s high energy, but also warm and heartfelt. Some of it’s freestyled.
The rest of his group joins him on their next song. Taniguchi sings, his voice gravelly. On cue, Taylor walks in through the door, sets his cases down, and joins them on flute. Later, Taylor performs while switching between the alto sax and clarinet. Their music is freestyled, therefore the members don’t have any form of sheet music–all of this is by ear. The bassist sometimes shouts chords at the guitarist. “G minor! C9! F!”
“This next song…” Taniguchi says, “is called… ‘Improvised Song #5027’.” I couldn’t always catch the lyrics, but I remembered enjoying myself (for once). They close, and I introduce myself to Taniguchi. He clasps my hand in a tight handshake, sounding slightly surprised when I tell him I’m writing about his group. “Well,” he says, with an easy smile, “you have my consent!”
It’s a low-key event. Similarly, the words “just relax” come up in multiple songs. Just sit back. Just relax. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but The Humble Cats have it down.