San Ramon concert to have everything -- and the kitchen sink
By Lou Fancher
Never underestimate an aluminum ladder.
Justin Spencer didn't -- and founding Recycled Percussion in 1995, he turned a high school talent show act into a "junk rock" band whose act includes a handy household ladder. Recycled Percussion placed third on America's Got Talent in 2009. Riding the crest of popularity with international tours, guest appearances on national television shows such as "The Today Show" and landing a permanent gig headlining in Las Vegas at the Quad Resort and Casino, 20 years of drumming on buckets, pots, pans and, yes, ladders, has brought big returns to the four-person collective.
Recycled Percussion is Spencer (drums), Ryan Vezina (drums/body percussion), Matt Bowman (guitar), and Jason Davies (DJ). Coming to San Ramon's Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center on Saturday, the band's precision high energy, professional musicianship and drumsticks given to each audience member are signature parts of the fun.
Spencer says what began in his rural New Hampshire high school as a cool way to re-create something he'd picked up from a bucket-banging kid in New York City has turned into a dream life. Despite nurturing parental advice from his drummer/electrician father to avoid the wild unpredictability of a musical career, nature took it's course and Spencer couldn't be happier.
"My dad no longer tells me never to go into music. Any time you have the opportunity to raise a child on music and they go on to be successful, it's something to be proud of," Spencer says.
A Recycled Percussion show is a sensory deluge. Part high-tech light show, comedy act, daredevil physicality and stunts like arriving upside-down from a theater's overhead fly-space, the show's instruments include not just guitars and drums but also carburetors, power tools, doors and other improbable, hand-selected gizmos.
"We are first of all musicians focused on musicianship," Spencer insists. "For everything we've tried, there are hundreds of instruments that didn't work. My dad's an electrician, so we had ladders around the house. It's a natural fit. It's been a staple from the early days."
Nicole Blazin, administrative marketing analyst for San Ramon's Parks & Community Services, which is presenting Recycled Percussion, says the city seeks audience interactive performers. With audience feedback indicating the popularity of shows like "Stomp," a theatrical phenomenon that originated in the United Kingdom and continues to tour in the United States, Blazin says excitement is high for the upcoming performance.
"This show is family-friendly and promises to get everyone out of their seat and moving to the beat," she said.
Spencer says the music is the easiest element of the show. Hardest is learning to be funny and shaping each performance to most effectively interact with the audience.
"The show has been our teacher. When you do a show every night, you have a chance to tweak things from the feedback," he says.
Behind the scenes, there's more grunt work.
"We work out a lot," he says. "The easiest part is onstage, but the driving, the creative part, the meetings, the wardrobe and the gym -- those are the bigger story and the hardest."