Bombino Battles the Wind with a High-Voltage Show in Downtown Brooklyn

by delarue

What’s the likelihood of being able to see Bombino in concert? How about on your lunch break, for free? Say what you want about how New York has gone to hell – events like today’s show at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn make living in this city worthwhile. Niger-born guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar and his four-piece Algerian jamband evoked the blues, Scottish bagpipe music, Malian desert rock and an ornate 70s-style soul ballad that with lush backing vocals would have been a hit for the Stylistics. Bombino lives up to the hype: not only does his playing bring to mind the legendary Ali Farka Toure, but also Mark Knopfler and Jerry Garcia in “on” mode. Much as Bombino is often pigeonholed in with the Malian desert rock crowd, his songs tend to be a lot faster. As the concert built to a crescendo with a small but avid home country posse dancing wildly at the front of the crowd, Bombino and his rhythm guitarist leaving the elegantly spacious licks behind and wailing on their chords, they left no doubt that this music is more about partying than about psychedelic ambience.

Getting to that point was a lot of fun. The drummer kept a hypnotic shuffle going, riding his hi-hat for a vintage disco beat on many of the songs, speeding up several of the songs, sometimes taking them doublespeed, otherwise simply leading the band into the passing lane and then hanging there precariously. They varied up the tempos in places, beginning in an improbable waltz rhythm before hitting a hypnotic, bouncy rock groove, other times riidng a swaying triplet beat or adding a bit of funk. In this group, the bass is more about the beat than the tunes, the bassist bopping unstoppably as he held the band’s many slurry two-chord vamps together.

As expected, the show was all about guitar solos, and despite the early hour and the gusts of wind blasting from behind the drum kit, Bombino delivered.  He was just as fascinating to hear playing resonant, Ali Farka Toure-inspired hammer-ons as he was with methodical, careful stairstep runs, judicious jazz chords and spacious, suspenseful accents during the longer songs. As the show went on, he picked up the pace, finally firing off a long series of quicksilver Vieux Farka Toure-style hammer-on runs before finally backing away, as if to survey the carnage he’d left behind, then going dark and gritty with his chords. Most of the songs clocked in at around six minutes, but they seemed longer: throughout his alternately serpentine and cloud-spotted riffage, time stood still. One number evoked the Grateful Dead’s Estimated Prophet, but faster; later on, an extended outro drew a straight line back to Bob Marley’s Exodus.

For those who wished they’d been able to see this, Bombino plays Brooklyn Bowl on July 30 at around 10 for $12; excellent, eclectic psychedelic hip-hop/funk band Mamarazzi opens the night at 8. And while the weekly Thursday noontime shows booked by BAM here usually don’t have much in the way of good music, every once in awhile they’ll knock out out of the park (pun intended) like this one. Next Thursday Sheila E – the highly admired percussionist and bandleader whose solo work puts to shame anything she ever did with that glyph guy – is here.