Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings Dec 13 2011 Bowery Ballroom Review

Very few bands can get away with a direct imitation of another era’s style.  It’s so hard to pull something off convincingly, let alone accurately.  Those swing bands of the 90’s, the garage band revival, the brief polka boom of the mid 2000’s, it often just doesn’t work.  So when Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings pull it off, it means that much more.

I’ve written on these here pages about Jones and the Dap Kings before, so I won’t go into an extended description of what they’re about.  You probably know, and to quote the one and only Binky Grip-Tight of the Dap Kings  “If you don’t know, you got to ask somebody!”

Sharon Jones 1

They held their Daptone 10th Anniversary Shows over 4 nights, 2 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and 2 at the Bowery Ballroom.  First off, you have never seen that many people on the Bowery stage.  9 musicians in the band, 2 backup singers on a riser, and Jones out front.  Not exactly spacious.

The crowd at a Dap Kings show is unlike most indie bands crowds.  Decidedly less drunken obnoxious people, but the ones who are there, obviously gravitate right towards me.  Here’s a little tip.  If you’re a drunken white girl, it’s probably not the best idea to try to do those soul-vocal trill things from the crowd while Jones is in telling an emotional story about her mother being sick.  Ya know?  Just my opinion.

Something about the band seemed just slightly off last night.  Jones clearly was having monitor problems, kept asking for more reverb and saying she couldn’t hear.  While the dap kings stage presence is always stoic, it seemed a little more stoic than usual.  Having said that, (that’s a Larry David reference) Sharon Jones feeling a little off, is like most musicians on the best day of their lives, so we’ll give her a pass.

She still gives 100%, there is no doubting that.  The crowd at the Bowery responded to every move.  In one surprising moment, they brought out Eric Kalb to sit in on drums.  Kalb, an early childhood drumming hero, was part of Deep Banana Blackout, and was probably the first drummer I ever saw play in that ghost note shuffle style in person.  It permanently changed me as a musician.  I’ve heard he’s been playing with Charlie Hunter recently, as for the rest of Deep Banana, we don’t really know where they’ve gone…somewhere into the jam band ether.  We wish them the best.

Homer Steinweiss, the regular Dap Kings Drummer, (who also seems to have a Food Blog) apparently is a lefty,  something also discovered last night. The kit was set up semi backwards, playing the kick with his left foot, but still playing the hi hat with his right hand.  Whatever, he’s allowed to do what he wants.

My favorite Dap Kings show still remains the Starland Ballroom, in the Middle Of Nowhere, South Jersey, during a snow storm.  It’s always the unexpected ones that get you.  Yes, the Bowery was a great show, they played with precision most bands can only dream of.  But when the bar is set so incredibly high, you have to be held to that standard.  I’ll give them a pass this time, you’ve earned it Sharon Jones.

Review: Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub @ Bowery Ballroom

Is it standard to write a brief apology when writing one of these blogs after a long absence? Well, I’ve been moving, so I apologize, my life has been in and out of boxes.  But I have left the cultural capital of the known universe (Jersey City) for a bit, and now reside in Clinton Hill Brooklyn.  Anyway, lets get to business.

Lanois 1

Daniel Lanois confuses me at times.  There is not much debate that he is one of the most significant producers of the last 20 years- He’s partially responsible for U2’s most memorable work and Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, that’s enough for me to buy anyone a sandwich.  His sound on record is instantly recognizable.  It’s as if you took only the good parts of 1980’s production, matched it with a gritty guitar sound, add some New Orleans style drumming, and put lots of delay on everything.  I would say he has created one of the great American sounds, but he’s Canadian.

Now it may be just me, but his solo work seems a tad self indulgent as of late.  While I am a junky for any documentary style film about studio recording, his film “Here Is What Is”, a companion film to the album of the same name, definitely included some parts that were like “Oh Hey, here I am, and this is why I’m awesome, and I hang out with Billy Bob Thorton”.  Don’t get me wrong, the album has a few great tracks, and the production is amazing, but it seemed to just be an experiment of him making sounds for the sake of sounds.  Now, is there anything wrong with that?  Not really…but I still feel torn about it.  His aim does in fact seem true, he hires great musicians, is mindful of the vibe of the whole album, does not use any digital workstation trickery…but there is something that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Last week was a prime example.  My sister and I went to see Lanois new band Black Dub at the Bowery Ballroom.  The main draw, in addition to Lanois himself, was Brian Blade on drums.  Blade is a straight up monster, and there is not one person alive who could argue this.  He has some magical power behind the kit, no note ever seems excessive, any beat he plays just makes you smile.  The entire front row was made up of drummers just trying to get a look at Blade.  More on him later.  The band was fronted, and kind of seems like a Lanois inspired vehicle for, Trixie Whitley- a young vocalist, who’s basically a model.  This is where it gets weird and confusing.

Lanois 2

Have you ever heard that old story of how some oil tycoon in the 1930’s rented out Carniege Hall so his wife could play piano there or something?  I think this is kind of like that.  Whitley is a capable singer…but is she worthy of a band of the finest studio musicians in the world and a tour to support it?  I’m gonna come out and say no.  She sounds like one of those girls you hear playing a set at Kennys Castaways who has an overly put on, immitation soul voice, singing an octave below her natural range trying not to sound like the tiny white girl she is.  I felt betrayed slightly.  She sounded kind of like a Christina Aguilera immitator, and looked like Taylor Swift.  Really Lanois?

Brian Blade...in the shadows
Brian Blade...in the shadows

On the stage were 2 drum kits, a keyboard, giant bass rig, pedal steel and guitar amp.  Lanois played one beautiful guitar the whole night, just one delay effect on it.  Blade had his drum kit, the bassist (whose name ecsapes me but was fantastic) also kept it simple…..Trixie had her own drum kit, which she futzed about with for a few songs, a keyboard which she played one song on and was barely audible, and a badass black Les Paul, which she played for one song, and only plucked a few notes.   Again Lanois, really??  First off, you have Brian Blade up there.  The only other drummer who has added something while playing with him, is Jim Keltner on Time Out of Mind, thats because he’s one of the greatest drummers of all time.  But this girl who can barely play?  WTF man.  To his credit, Blade took it like a champ, I don’t think its possible for him to sound bad.  Any time she got on the kit, he just kept straight ahead time, throwing in a simple accent fill when necessary, he’s like Bacon, he makes anything better.

Lanois Steel

But there was really no need for her to have a drum kit, or guitar, or keyboard.  Focus on someones strengths, which in her case i think were backing vocals, when Lanois took the lead on his hit “The Maker”.  Not awkwardly trying to play guitar, drums, or keys, it just took away from whatever she had.  The thing is….LANOIS HAS TO KNOW THIS!  He produced Achtung Baby!  And Time Out Of Mind!  COME ON MAN!  I really dont want to say it…he has to just want to bang her, or has to be banging her, something in that realm.  You know how when two people are talking, and one clearly likes the other, and the other clearly does not like that person back, and its kinda painful to watch?  This seemed a little like that.  Lanois would move his mic stand towards her, she would kind of just stand in the same place.  He’d hug her and shit between songs, it just seemed a little weird. During the encore, they finished their song, the plan seemed to be for Lanois to finish the show solo with guitar, and he was like “you wanna sing one more with me?”  and shes all “nah, you finish this one, do your thing”.  That seemed the equivelant of, “you wanna go get a drink after dinner?”  “Nah I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I need to be up early, I’m just gonna head home”  Tough break Lanois, Tough Break.

I guess he’ll just have to take solace in his millions of dollars, incredible talent as a producer and musician, and worldwide acclaim.  It must be a tough life.

Now my dilemma only continued a few days after the show when I spoke to my sister to ask her opinion.  She enthusiastically loved the show.  Now, we both loved the band, but she enjoyed the vocalist far more than I did.  Im pretty confused right now, and Im questioning all I believe is right and holy.  Maybe I’m being too harsh on Trixie, maybe in any other context I would have enjoyed her performance.  But when someone is presented to you with such a powerful band, I feel its accurate to raise your expectations.  And that is the story I am sticking to.

The Dirty Projectors with Tuneyards, David Byrne, and The Roots @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC

OH HEY INTERNET!    So lovely to see you again, I’ve truly, madly, deeply, missed you oh so much.  Especially since that falling out we had in ’06.  For that, I accept complete fault, and I promise it will never happen again (unless Dee Snyder and Sammy Hagar try to mess with me again, those damn frizzy haired front men…but I digress.)

The title and mission statement of this blog are fairly self explanatory, I will blog what I hear.  And all things relating to music.  So sometimes it will be blogging what I see, or what I play, or what I find in the trash and then play.   But hey, you’re not here to hear me blabber.  Well, maybe you are, but lets get down to it.

Sunday night is not a usual night for a show.  The weekend is winding down, you have to get yourself together for Monday, you might want to just hang at home and catch up on Hulu.  But this particular sunday was different.  I did not have to work until noon Monday…so it was fair game for some live music.   I received an invite to see The Dirty Projectors at The Bowery Ballroom, my all time favorite New York Venue, possibly one of the best on the planet.  The Dirty Projectors have gained a lot of notoriety recently, being on the cover of New York Magazine and all…but beneath all the fame, glory, drugs, hedge funds, and child labor, there is a pretty good band.

They have this African thing going on, kind of like Paul Simon, if he wasnt a theiving little bastard who ripped off Los Lobos and many many african musicians.   I saw them previously at the Williamsburg Waterfront Jelly Pool Party…well, I heard them…the stage was not viewable, that place is just set up terribly.  They did sound great though, so I figured another viewing was in order.

This was the end of a 4 night NYC run for The Projectors, I had heard great things about the previous nights, particualarly the opening band.   Now, I LIVE to be blown away by an opening band.  As cynical and jewish as I am,  I want to be proven wrong in all aspects of life.  I want to say a band sucks for years, then have them create the greatest album ever.   I want to be pissed that I have to sit through 2 bands I dont know before a headliner, and be impressed beyond belief.  This is exactly what happened, and David Byrne agrees with me (i’ll get more into that later)

My Friend said to me “Steve, The Dirty Projectors are great, but this band Tuneyards will destroy everything in sight, and you will want to leave afterwards, and shatter all of your hard drives containing stolen music beause they are so good, and resort back to using gramaphone technology, because there is no hope for the future”  I am not paraphrasing, thats exactly what happened, only with more explatives (this is a family blog, we keep it clean).   Lo and Behold, he was so fucking right.   This band Tuneyards was comprised of one girl on Vocals, Ukulele, Floor Tom and Snare Drum, using a looping sampler to record and play over herself live,  as well as a bass player.   Now, whenever someone hypes a band that much, I’m skeptical, as we all should be.  But from the opening notes, there was no messing around.  The entire crowd agreed, we all ate it up right away.  From the opening notes, people were freaking out.  The vocals were these exotic chants, constantly looping, sounding like african melodies you’d hear in a national geographic documentary. Then all of a sudden, some big ass Floor Tom Beats come in, and you suddenly realize that you are cured of all your illnesses, you’ve grown a foot taller, and there is a cheesesteak on a plate in front of you.  Her ukulele playing was amplified in a strange way, distorting it just a bit, making it kind of sound like a thumb piano (another african origin instrument.)

In my many years of shows, I have never seen a crowd react in such a way to an opening band.  The room was filled with joy, people were screaming throughout the songs, dancing it up, standing in awe.  You know who else was dancing?  David Byrne.  We spotted him early on in the crowd, and even an unstoppable genius such as the Byrne himself could not helped but be moved by a performance such as this.  My friend spotted him at the merch booth between sets buying the Tuneyards CD.   Respect, Byrne.

I feel like seeing David Bryne around town is kind of like a NY right of passage.  That guy is  everywhere.  I’ve seriously walked past him randomly more times than anyone I actually know.

Other Recognizable faces in the cowd were The Roots.  Its hard to miss a Fro the size of Questlove’s, and surrounding him were Captain Kirk and the bass player who’s name I do not know.  So immediately, seeing an entire rhythm section of a band in attendance aroused suspicion.  What also aroused suspicion was the 2nd drum kit set up on stage, the same configuration as Questloves.  So, we assumed there would be some Roots Sit-Inage.  Which there was.   They collaborated on the new jam “No Intentions” which is a fairly serious song.  Interesting melody, nice straight ahead rhythm, weird guitar.  All things I enjoy.

For the encore, another mic was ser up, and it seemed fairly obvious that Byrne would pull a sit in, since he’s recorded a few tracks with The Projectors in the past, and he did.   But in all honesty, that was pretty uneventful.  The song was no more than 3 min, he flubbed a few vocals, and didnt sound that great.   Its cool Byrne, you get a pass on this one, I still love you.

Overall, a wonderful show, but not really because of the Dirty Projectors.  Tuneyards took the cake this evening, I advise you to take a listen, maybe go see them live.  You will thank me later, and possibly owe me a cheesesteak.