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Pistons house band keeps the Palace rockin'
The Detroit Pistons have unfortunately not had too many occasions to celebrate at the Palace of Auburn Hills so far this season.
But the Detroit Pistons House Band has had Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" ready to go -- and played it with gusto after the team's Dec. 26 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
"Yeah, we've been trying to sing 'Celebration' since we started, and the other day was the first time we got the chance to do it," says singer and band leader Brian Alexander. "It's a good thing."
Alexander and company are certainly hoping the song will become a more consistent staple in its repertoire, but it's clear the band has become a winning concern out at The Palace during the past few months.
Stationed on a 15-foot-high, custom-built stage in the northeast corner of the arena's upper level, the group -- which usually numbers eight or nine members, with Teresa Marbury's shrubbery-sized Afro clearly visible from all corners of in the building -- pumps out a repertoire of old school R&B, funk, Motown and some rock. The caliber of the performance is tight and highly polished, and the band is clearly clicking with all demographics attending the games, including a segment of youths who have spontaneously taken to dancing behind the band when it's show on the Palace video screens.
"It's not just an audio experience; people are going over and grooving to them," says Ken Jimenez, Entertainment Director for Palace Sports & Entertainment. The Golden State Warriors are the only National Basketball Association teams using a live band as part of its game entertainment, and Jimenez notes that PS&E was "nervous about what a live band would sound like in-arena" -- so much so that the team didn't hype Alexander and company for the first month or so it was playing.
"We wanted to see what would work and how people it would respond to it," Jimenez explains. "By the third people were walking up to us, going 'Is that band going to be here every night?' And once we were out of the pre-season we started seeing the people line up behind the band and grooving with them, and we knew it was going to work."
Live music isn't new to Pistons games, of course; it was long the domain of Detroit's Sun Messengers, who played from 1996-2011. The team has been using an in-house DJ ever since, but Jimenez acknowledges that "one of the things we were a little short on was a wide demographic sound of music that would be familiar to all our fans. We were missing an audio experience for the older crowd. Coming from the city of Motown and rock history, we needed to play some music that didn't just cater to the kids and teeanagers."
Jimenez found the Brian Alexander Band by chance, playing its weekly Thursday night gig at Prime 29 Steakhouse in West Bloomfield while out with friends. Impressed by the crowd response -- "a place full of people in their 40s and 50s leaving their food on the table and doing The Bump and all the old school dancing" -- he came back with Harlan Hendrickson, PS&E's marketing vice-president.
"After three songs, he said, 'That's our band. We have to have these guys,' " Jimenez remembers.
The band has been together for about four years, according to Alexander, a Commerce Township resident who put together musicians he met doing commercial work in the Detroit area. Some previous members have included current music directors for Lady Gaga and Ne-Yo, and Alexander -- who also produced an Inauguration show for President George W. Bush -- says he thought "for about five seconds" before deciding to accept the Pistons' offer.
"It's a great thing to be a part of," says Alexander, who's "over 40, under 50." "The whole band, we're entertainers and we sit there and watch them do all this stuff during the games -- the drumline, the dancers, everything -- and there's always something going on. It's like, 'Wow!' So to be a piece of that is really an honor."
PS&E plans to boost the band's profile in coming weeks. The section where it plays is being rechristened the Party Zone, and fans will be actively encouraged to dance amongst the seats. And Alexander says the band, which also plays private social and corporate events, keeps adding to its repertoire and hopes to be playing "Celebration" more often during the next few months.
"It's turning into a really great thing for us," he says. "People have been calling, saying, 'Hey, I saw you guys at the Pistons' game,' so it certainly helps business, too. We're loving it."
The Detroit Pistons House Band (aka the Brian Alexander Band) next performs Sunday, Jan. 4, when the Pistons play the Sacramento Kings at 6 p.m. at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
The Brian Alexander Band performs Thursday nights at the Prime 29 Steakhouse, 6545 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield. Call 248-737-7463 or visit www.The BrianAlexanderBand.com.
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