by George Dow
Most of the shows that I cover take place in some variation of the dingy rock club. It’s a somewhat disorienting experience to catch the much-buzzed, up-and-coming Boston hip-hop/soul/R&B artist Shea Rose and her band at Boston’s trendy M Bar. The bar looks more like the set of the Jimmy Fallon show than a rock club. Add to the mix the fact that tonight’s event is a feature of Fashion Week Boston, which brings with it a roomful of beautiful people, and I’m nearly knocked off my pins entirely.
Shea’s music is a unique combination of influences which makes it impossible for anyone to feel marginalized. Sure, there are plenty of examples of mainstream artists blurring the lines between hip-hop, soul, and R&B, but the fact of the matter is that there are sadly few popular examples of artists that can bring rock to the table too. Living Colour is the only real popular touchstone for this blend of music and their last brush with mainstream popularity was in the early ‘90s (and they never really explored the hip-hop possibilities of their sound). So to see a female artist exploring the possibilities of this under-explored genre mix is both entertaining and utterly engaging.
Shea is a true local girl. She grew up in Braintree, MA, and attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music. It was there where she developed her sound and prepared for her assault on New England. “Berklee was and still is an amazing resource,” she tells me. “The music industry is all about building great relationships and networking and many of the connections that I’ve made at Berklee have helped me get to where I am professionally and musically.”
In the press, Shea is positioned as a solo artist but when performing live it’s clear that her band is integral to the overall sound. They are front-and-center and provide the backbone over which Shea sings and raps. She has surrounded herself with top-notch talent. “I LOVE my band! We all are connected by way of Berklee, and some of us attended Berklee. The band is guitarists Evan DiGiambattista and Maro Chon, bassist Carter Lee, drummer Sheldon Thwaites, songwriter and rapper Daniel Rose, and lastly Jonathan Lewis, who guest DJ’s for some of our performances. We are a family, and these guys mean the world to me and are so talented and amazing at what they do!” Shea gushes over her fellow band mates.
The evening at M Bar is split into three roughly 40-minute sets. Each one peppered with the entire variety influences she brings to the table. It’s amazing to see how seamlessly they are able to shift from one genre to another. Guitarist Maro Chon flails his shockingly large mop of hair while shredding through guitar solos that would fit easily with a death-metal band. Drummer Sheldon Thwaites orchestrates the rhythms like the Roots’ Questlove, minus 40 pounds and six inches of afro.
A week earlier Shea found herself sharing a bill with the legendary Gladys Knight at the 25th anniversary Steppin’ Out for the Dimrock Center. An event that benefits Roxbury’s Dimrock Center, a historic healthcare center in Roxbury, MA. When asked what it was like to perform on the same bill as the living legend, she is quick to cite the power of music, “It was an honor and one of those moments that I never would have ever thought about happening in my life. That’s the brilliant thing about music, it takes you to places you never imagined while simultaneously making your dream come true. It’s magic!”
During most of the first set the room bounces with fans singing along with nearly every word. At moments it seems like a class reunion—old friends from high school and Berklee calling shout-outs from the audience. At other times the scene is downright surreal. Waif-thin models in skin-tight dresses, sporting giant Russian-looking military headdresses pose for photos with the guests. Male models sporting boas or fur vests sashay through the room at random intervals. All the while Shea and band continue to rock the house. Shea trades rap verses with fellow MC, Daniel Rose or belts out a chorus on her own. Her stage presence makes her seem much taller than her 5-foot-2 stature.
They open their second set with their cover of the B-52’s “Dance This Mess Around” which is slated as the title track to Shea’s upcoming album. As a child of the ’80s I’m struck that while so many in the room were singing along with the “hits” during the first set, everyone seems oblivious to this cover version of one of the best party bands of that decade. Who knows, maybe I’m just a cynical old fart. It’s encouraging though that the audience seems to appreciate the value of a good song even if they aren’t students of popular music history.
Shea is thrilled and honored to have been asked to be a part of Boston’s Fashion Week festivities. “My style is ever-evolving, and my influences range from Grace Jones to Jimi Hendrix. It’s brought about attention in Boston’s fashion community, and too our band is so diverse, everyone has been responding to our look. We have Korean, Canadian, Trinidadian, Basian, Italian and so we do, in fact, represent the world, and the fashion industry here in New England loves us!”