To call Will Holland’s musical path diverse is an understatement. Under the moniker Quantic, the British-born/Brooklyn-based DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist spent the last 15 years tackling an incredibly varied range of genres and projects.
Last year, Holland played a special DJ set in San Diego as part of his “45 RPM” tour. But fans knew the ante would be raised considerably when he played with a live band March 30 at Little Italy’s Music Box.
With percussionist Wilson Viveros, multi-instrumentalist/arranger Sylvester Onyejiaka, and singer Jimetta Rose in tow, the sizable crowd was prepared for Quantic’s live show to bring the fire.
Opener Xenia Rubinos’ set sure did. About 20 minutes into the Puerto Rican/Cuban singer’s performance, the fire alarm went off, disabling the PA system and forcing the dynamic artist (and the rest of her trio) back into the dressing room. The San Diego Fire Department showed up, the alarm was reset, and so was the show.
To her credit, Rubinos didn’t let the delay ruin the mood. Instead, it seemed to turn things around. Like a keyboard-obsessed cross between Saul Williams and Neneh Cherry, Rubinos finished her frenetic set with songs that alternately showcased her booming voice and syncopated beats.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m., the headliners took the stage. Holland, Viveros, and Onyejiaka played an instrumental together before inviting Rose to join them. The L.A.-based singer made appearances throughout the evening, but never for more than a song or two.
Named the “Tropical Elevation Tour,” Holland let the crowd know right away that the band would be playing songs from his entire catalog.
“One of the good things about playing on tour away from an album is that we get to do some older music that we usually don’t get to play,” he told the audience.
And he stuck to his word.
“Time Is the Enemy” from Quantic’s 2001 debut, “The 5th Exotic,” made an appearance, as did “Father (Soul)” from 2007’s “Tropidelico” - the latter featuring Holland playing a small hand-piano called a mbira.
But it was when the bandleader strapped on his trademark accordion that the show reached a new level. He drew upon his 7-year stint in Colombia, where he ran an analog studio dubbed Sonido del Valle and drew inspiration from a multitude of South American styles.
It helps that the band does a mean, accordion-led version of Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A G Thang,” but all of the band’s cumbias had the entire Music Box dancing.
They threw in a few new songs as well - “A Life Worth Living” from the forthcoming Flowering Inferno album “1000 Watts” due on June 17, a disco-jam called “Creation,” and “Curuba,” a new instrumental that’s available as a free download on Quantic’s SoundCloud page.
Seamlessly blending different styles from tropical, cumbia, and soul, to disco, jazz, and dub when playing records is one thing. But to coherently and dynamically connect them on stage for an hour is something else entirely.
That he can successfully pull off such a complex show is a testament to Holland’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and band director. But that it’s so engaging and enjoyable as well is a testament to his obvious passion and appreciation for all musical forms.
The crowd at the Music Box certainly recognized it. Deafening repeated cheers of “otra!” brought the band back to the stage for an encore, and prompted Holland to quip, “I think I live on the wrong coast” before launching into the classic “Pushin’ On.”
When Jimetta Rose thanked the Music Box for “stirring up some magic in the room,” it was obvious the feeling was mutual.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.