Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Review: Lee Presson and the Nails vs. The Queen Mary

"I'm on a mother****ing BOAT!"

Recently, the "goth swing" jump blues band Lee Presson and the Nails have gained a new audience in the steampunk and dieselpunk community. Last year, I interviewed Lee, and mentioned that he would be headlining the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition in Santa Clara, CA. This year he headlined Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium on board the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA at their Friday Night Dance, and I was fortunate to be able to attend.

Making the hundred-mile trek from my home town, I got there somewhat late, but when I arrived at the Queen's Salon ballroom, the doors had yet to open. A long line already stood outside; a curious mix of steampunks in neo-Victorian attire and hepcats in vintage '20s and '30s threads. Then the doors opened, and the band was already on stage and played the eager crowd into the ballroom.
Lee Presson and the Nails in the Queen's Salon ballroom.

Those that were unfamiliar with Lee Presson and the Nails soon found out that this was no ordinary swing band. Throughout the evening, Lee played an eclectic mix of big band standards, such as "Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing)", "Pennies from Heaven" and "Minnie the Moocher", mixed with swinging covers of modern songs ("The Ace of Spades Polka", "Istanbul (not Constantinople)" and their signature swing cover of "Hot for Teacher"), ballroom scores and even some Disney (a swing cover of "Grim Grinning Ghosts", the background music from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion - appropriate for a Friday the 13th on a haunted steamliner - and "Pink Elephants On Parade.") and Looney Toons fare ("Powerhouse").

Several of their numbers were ballroom selections off their new album, "Balls In Your Face", the name of which became a running gag throughout the evening. (Lee: "This next number is a waltz..." Band: "IN YOUR FACE!") And not just any ballroom numbers, but a delightfully eccentric selection: for example, one of their waltz numbers was Groucho Marx' famous, "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" with Lee doing a lively Marxish croon of it.
A couple jitterbugs to Lee's swinging sounds.

Lee himself is a dynamo of explosive comic energy and the driving force of the band, manically jumping between his xylophone on stage left and the mic stand at center stage, and once even jumping down into the audience to jitterbug with a young lady on the dance floor! (An anecdote about this crazy bandleader: I was outside on the Promenade with some of my Toy Soldier friends and The Jon from the band Steam Powered Giraffe during one of the breaks, when Lee came bounding by. He exclaimed that he was too tired to make it back to the ballroom and laid down on the deck, then suggested one of my friends drag him back to the room. As he was being dragged down the deck by his heel, he started flailing his arms and yelling as if he were sliding down the deck of the sinking Titanic. That's just an example of the stream-of-consciousness zaniness you can expect from this man.)

The dance floor was almost constantly packed; the band's high energy numbers kept the room on their feet much of the evening through jitterbugs, quicksteps, waltzes, polkas and tangos. The audience enjoyed the mix of dance styles and quirky selections, and the end of every song was met with enthusiastic applause. Musically, the sound was impressive and tight, the kind of sound you'd expect from a band that's been together for a decade and a half. I only noticed the brass getting tired during the last half of their last set, which is understandable. There were apparently some sound issues in the beginning but that was worked out quickly (the sound was handled expertly by Steam Powered Giraffe's sound man Steve Negrete.)
The dance floor was PACKED!

If you are a music promoter, convention organizer, event manager or club owner reading this, I would highly recommend booking this band at your venue. Please don't be put off by their moniker as a "goth" swing band. Oftentimes the "G" word carries the baggage of something dark and depressing, but this band is anything but that; this band is FUN personified (and IN YOUR FACE!) and the music is top-notch. Lee Presson and the Nails are a first class act that are well worth the expense and will have people talking about your event for weeks afterward.

If you're just a lover of good music and a great evening or love to dance, and have the chance to see this band, do not miss it! You're guaranteed to have a ball. Literally. IN YOUR FACE. Everyone who was there that evening had a great time; reactions of those leaving the show Friday night ranged from "That was AMAZING!" to "He's BRILLIANT!" to "Just WOW!" Which pretty much summed up my experience, as well.
Lee and me!

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