Back in July, Chico favorite Diego’s Umbrella sneaked into town with little fanfare for a quick hour-long set at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest release party that a lot of fans missed. On Sunday, the gypsy rockers from San Francisco are back at the brewery for a longer and more publicized headlining show.
Opening the Oktoberfest party was Sacramento’s Grand Isle Fire Brigade, a polka band that had Diego’s violinist Jason Kleinberg waxing nostalgic before the show. The band’s lederhosen had him missing the days when they used to wear the traditional German garb on stage. It was just one of their now abandoned matching outfits, along with ’70s era powder blue suits and red military-like shirts and slacks accented with a cape.
Dumping the outfits is just one of a number of changes over the years, including going from a six-piece to a quintet. “I think if anything the band suffered from too many instruments playing at one time,” drummer Jake Wood admitted during a recent telephone call, “and (we) sort of paired it down a little.”
Recently Diego’s Umbrella had to do without Wood’s services as he took a leave of absence to work on the Broadway production of the smash hit “Hamilton” during its San Francisco run, then he signed on for six months as part of the touring production. But Diego’s back at full capacity with Wood behind his kit and with the party drum strapped on Wood himself is happy to be back to the spontaneity and fun of Diego’s, which is quite different from “Hamilton’s” rigidity.
“It’s fascinating,” he remarked on being in the orchestra pit. “There are moments when it’s incredibly exciting and moments when it’s pretty daunting. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked for any musical gig I’ve ever had. It was also the least creative. I mean, it was the most stifling in terms of my spirit, and that’s a big issue, you know.”
“When I did Hamilton, probably 400-500 shows, I played the exact same notes, note-for-note every night. There was no variation unless I just made a mistake. There was no interpretation. The only thing you can interpret are, like, dynamics, choosing to play a note slightly louder of slightly softer. That’s pretty much it.”
“Then with Diego’s, well, I’m going to play the parts that I wrote and maybe I’ll try something a bit spicier tonight; maybe I want to pair it down tonight. I mean, usually I try to keep it as uniform as possible because I like the parts I’ve come up with (but) I still have that liberty to experiment.” “I also have the party drum. This is true. If anything screams ‘keep me away from the orchestra pit,’ it’s probably the party drum.” For the uninitiated, the party drum is a bass drum with a mini high hat and mini snare drum attached that Wood straps on to wade out into the audience on the dance floor.
Inspiration for the party drum came from a drummer in a traditional Balkan group who played a bass drum with a mallet and a twig-like whip. Wood said “I just started building it piece by piece. Party drum would be in probably the fourth or fifth incarnation.”
After the Chico show Diego’s Umbrella — party drum and all — will be traveling down to Del Mar for the huge three-day KAABOO Festival, which bills itself as “a new kind of entertainment and arts experience, designed around comfort, hospitality and good times.” The band plays Friday along with mainstays from the 1980s Blondie and the English Beat, ‘90s rockers Jimmy Eat World and Incubus, modern performers Gucci Mane and Haley, with the Foo Fighters closing the night. The lineups for days two and three are equally impressive.
“That’ll be a fun one,” Wood said in a voice that showed he’s glad to be back with Diego’s Umbrella.