Gunga’s big break

HANALEI — It’s a Friday night at Tahiti Nui and Jeff “Gordo” Gordon is having way too much fun.

The lead singer for Gunga LaGunga is jamming on the guitar, hopping and bopping on the small stage, flipping his head up and down. When he’s not belting out the words to “Take a Load Off Annie/Fanny” he’s laughing or grinning or whistling or howling.

A friend walks by and a barefoot Gordon, wearing board shorts, gives him a mid-song fist bump.

“Aloha, brother,” Gordon says. “Great to see you.”

He turns his attention back to the crowd.

“It’s the last verse,” he shouts. “I”ll feed you the lines.”

They’re happy to oblige.

Soon, the dance floor is filled with women and men swirling around under the dim lighting. It’s clear many of them are friends and fans of the band. There’s a lot of smiling as they twist and turn to music created by Gordon, Mike Berkemeyer on bass and “Stix” Pierce on drums.

Gordon keeps everyone entertained with humorous and mostly PG-rated comments and jokes.

“This is a family show,” he says.

So it goes for the next 30 or 40 minutes as Gunga LaGunga bangs out a set of mostly older, popular favorites, including “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Shambala.” And when they play “Werewolves of London,” almost everyone is up and moving, clapping and singing and howling at the right times.

It’s a helluva performance.

But there’s something more going on at this iconic bar and lounge.

Let’s start with a celebration of the release of the North Shore band’s first CD, “WOOF,” 10 tracks of original music. Locally recorded and produced, it was more than two years in the making. The band was worried people wouldn’t like it.

Forget those worries: Gunga has been tops on the ReverbNation local charts for over four weeks since the album came out.

“Everyone likes it, so thank God,” Gordon said with a nod.

He tells the crowd to come get a copy — it’s not necessary to put money in the tip jar. In fact, a mai tai will do.

“Take it, make copies for your friends and spread it illegally all over the Internet,” he says. “We just want to get the music out there.”

It’s not just the CD release that’s filled this Hanalei hot spot — the rest of the town is quiet — with energy and electricity. There’s another reason to tip a beer to the band and wish them well.

“We’re taking a little road trip next week,” Gordon says, “and we’re kind of using you guys as guinea pigs.”

Gunga LaGunga is rehearsing for a concert next week in Washington, D.C., at the Willard Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., for the Potomac Institute’s Navigator Celebration. It’s a few blocks to a place called the White House.

“I don’t think they’re running background checks, because they probably wouldn’t let us in if they knew how close we were going to be to the White House,” Gordon said, chuckling during a break Friday night. “But it should be fun.”

Make no mistake. This is a big deal and this trio is excited for what they consider to be perhaps the performance of their musical careers. It could be one of those big breaks you hear about.

It’s going to be a black tie affair. Senators and representatives are expected to be there. VIPs will be on hand. Gunga LaGunga plans to be ready with their “original groove rock” that has made them a North Shore favorite.

“We’re comfortable here,” Pierce said. “We love it. It’s our home.”

They weren’t nervous Friday and don’t plan to be when they’re rocking and rolling in the nation’s capital.

“You got to just own the crowd,” Gordon said.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Berkemeyer added. “A very good friend is doing us a very big favor. It’s a lot of exposure for us.”

The Kauai band, which formed five years ago, will deliver the kind of show they’re known to deliver at Tahiti Nui. There really is no place they’d rather be — except maybe the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“That’s what we try to do, songs that people want to dance to because it’s all about getting them up, having them party and feel good,” Pierce said. “The energy exchange happens. The happier they are, we give it back to them, they give it back to us.”

Gordon refers to it as breaking down the wall between stage and seats.

“We want the audience to be part of the show,” he said. “We don’t want it to be they’re sitting there staring at us.”

Berkemeyer and Pierce had been playing together at the Tahiti Nui for over 10 years when Gordon moved to the island in 2010. They clicked and began gigging and recording. When they can, these guys ride the waves together, watch the sunsets and just enjoy each other’s company, which they credit to a common denominator: drumming backgrounds.

“The groove just works,” Gordon said.

The art of playing live is what Gunga LaGunga lives for. It gives them opportunities to be creative and sometimes, surprise themselves, too, with what they can do with a song.

When they recorded “WOOF,” it was a live session. It was true to what they wanted it to be. Real playing, real singing, real music.

“When you make music on a computer, you can make it absolutely perfect, perfectly in time and in tune, even if the performer is unable to do it live,” Gordon said. “This was always the dream of every producer, until we finally got what we asked for — ‘perfect music,’ and it sucked.”

No one, not even Gunga LaGunga, said the music was perfect Friday at Tahiti Nui. But it was, Gordon said, something far better.

“Beautiful set, beautiful crowd,” he said. “We’re grooving. It’s a beautiful night.”

  1. KcTim October 31, 2018 6:02 am Reply

    Braddahs!!!! Nice interview and story!! Our time apart is getting so much shorter!!! Can’t wait!


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