Some of the Wildest, Danceable Psychedelic Acts in New York Share the Best Bill of the Month…and Maybe the Year

by delarue

What if you had the chance to see the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane and the Ventures all on the same bill..for ten bucks. Would you go? How about if you added Mulatu Astatke and Mercedes Sosa to the bill?

Obviously, that lineup never happened. But you can see a similarly amazing show this Jan 13 starting at 7:30 PM at Drom with the 2018 counterpart to many of those artists. Since the annual booking agents’ convention is in town, this is arguably the best concert weekend of the year – if you plan on seeing a weekend of music in 2018, it won’t get any better than this. The show starts with Christylez Bacon & Nistha Raj’s Indian hip-hop Bhairavi Beatbox, at 8:15 Super Yamba playing their psychedelic Afrobeat jams, at 9 singer Carolina Oliveros’ mighty 13-piece Afro-Colombian  trance/dance choir Bulla en el Barrio, at 10 the amazing Thai psychedelic jamband Drunken Foreigner Band (a Sunwatchers spinoff); at 11:15 the similarly trippy, more eclectic Combo Chimbita, at midnight awesomely slinky, psychedelic Israeli Ethiopiques groove instrumentalists Anbessa Orchestra and at around 1 Brooklyn’s funnest band, psychedelic organ-driven Middle Eastern-tinged surf rock trio Hearing Things . It’s like a month’s worth of going to Barbes, all in one marathon night – most of these acts are in regular rotation at Brooklyn’s best venue. 

The highlight of the night is Drunken Foreigner Band, not because they’re necessarily better than any of the other acts but because they don’t play a lot of shows. They’re the most psychedelic act on the bill by a mile – and it’s a very psychedelic lineup. They have an amazing new album, sardonically titled White Guy Disease, due out on vinyl from Electric Cowbell Records just in time for the show. Keyboardist/bandleader Dave Kadden draws his inspiration from Akha and Lam Lao folk tunes from Thailand and Laos and then electrifies them with creepy, trebly organ, a slinky rhythm section and Jim McHugh’s eerie electric phin lute. The result is some of the wildest, most psychedelic music you’ll ever hear,  an early contender for best album of 2018.

It’s basically a theme and variations. The first track, Akha 1, a practically thirteen-minute one-chord jam, sets the stage. As Jason Robira’s drums slither along on an altered clave groove and bassist Peter Kerlin loops a leaping one-five hook, Kadden spirals around, making Ray Manzarek-style funeral music out of a riff that’s essentially psychedelic Asian blues. Running through a reverbed-up amp and eventually a wah pedal, the phin has a mosquitoey Vox amp tone . If Country Joe & the Fish had been Laotian, they might have sounded like this.

The title track is louder and a lot shorter, sheets of fuzztone acidity burning from the phin, the organ sometimes doubling the melody line. With its tortured animalian snorts from sax and phin, the fourth track, Chan Choa Wa Chan Bin Dai sounds like the Velvets doing a wordless Thai version of Sister Ray – but infinitely more tightly. It’s the catchiest, most anthemic and rock-oriented track here.

The band make a march out of the opening theme in Akha 2, spiced with a surreal choir of throat-singing voices, then brings it down for a split-second before the surreal spirals pick up again. From there the band segues into the epic concluding segment Farang Mao, bringing the main theme full circle. As this trip peaks out, McHugh, hits his wah and distortion pedal, fires off a little choppy funk and finally goes completely off the rails in a savage flurry of tremolo-picking before pulling himself back on. Sunwatchers are a great band but this stuff is something else. Fans of psychedelic rock in general, as well as those who gravitate toward stoner sounds from other continents, i.e. Chicha Libre or Greek Judas should check these guys out. See you there!