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Category: stoner music

Rev. Vince Anderson: Brooklyn’s Wildest, Most Relevant Monday Night Institution

The 2016 Presidential election really lit a fire under Rev. Vince Anderson. That was a dreaded wakeup call for just about everyone, but it really pushed the bushy-bearded, wild-haired keyboardist and jamband leader to new levels of intensity. “Get off that magic rectangle,” he admonished the crowd more than once a couple of weeks ago at his ongoing Monday night residency at Union Pool. “Just turn around, look at your neighbor and introduce yourself,” he cajoled.

That moment turned out to be infinitely less awkward that it would have been in a house of worship. A vacationing Georgia couple were wide-eyed; they admitted not having the slightest idea of what they’d just wandered into. “He’s a New York institution,” explained the tired but obviously reinvigorated black-clad man next to them.

In the years since Anderson first started playing his first weekly residency at the old Avenue B Social Club in the East Village, he’s switched out any kind of overtly Christian message for a community-centered, populist philosophy that he’s really concretized and brought to the stage since last year’s November surprise. And while gospel music is still the foundation of what he plays with his raucous, semi-rotating backing band the Love Choir, these days his sound is more funk and soul-oriented. The songs go on for ten minutes or more, with all kinds of dynamics, ferocious and stampeding, then hushed.

There was a time when he’d always open the show with Get Out of My Way, the pummeling first cut on his 2002 album The 13th Apostle: the studio version is a mashup of Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits and oldschool gospel. These days, Anderson plays the song closer to lickety-split Billy Preston funk…but he also likes to bring it down to a lusciously glimmering classical piano interlude. This guy can literally play anything.

Over the past couple of months, he’s also opened with a rapt, quiet take of the gospel standard Precious Lord, Take My Hand, and with Ready for the Light, a relatively new number that’s sort of symphonic James Brown. His best song lately, which he’s been playing at pretty much every show, is a new version of his slow but mighty gospel anthem I Don’t Think Jesus Would Have Done It That Way. Anderson wrote that one in response to the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq, but the new version is even more incendiary. Anderson takes potshots at Trump and the swamp cabinet and Steve Bannon in particular: it ends with everybody that Trump hates – immigrants, gays, women and, hell, pretty much all of us – having a barbecue on the White House lawn.

Watching the audience react is fascinating – and sad. Much as this is one of the rare Williamsburg events that draws both a local black and latino crowd as well as the young Republicans hell-bent on taking over the neighborhood, the former contingent here is a lot smaller than it used to be. And the song doesn’t get the enthusiastic reaction you might think it would: there’s a lot of polite silence, and a little clapping, mostly from the women – there are always a handful of Hillary supporters. Obviously, the young Republicans come here to to dance, not to be confronted by any reality that would threaten their rich parents’ dominance in the political sphere, never mind their real estate bubble profits.

But the crowd be damned – the music is fantastic. The first couple of shows in May were on the lacklustre side since the band had a sub guitarist who obviously didn’t really get the music. On the third and next-to-last Mondays in May, regular axeman Jaleel Bunton was back with his psychedelic bluesmetal/funk attack and the energy suddenly went back through the roof.

The second Monday in June, Bunton was absent again, but in his place was the brilliant Binky Griptite, the late, great Sharon Jones’ lead guitarist, who brought his elegant, virtuosic, low-key Hendrix-inspired lines to the mix and as usual elevated everybody in the band. The week after that was Moist Paula Henderson’s birthday, so Anderson gave her a feature in an old audience favorite, the nocturnal waltz New Orleans, 4 AM. His longtime baritone saxophonist, musical sparring partner and “ex-wife,” as he’s called her for the better part of two decades, responded with her usual blend of irony, humor and irrepressible fun. The group had a great drummer that night, too – it was the bartender!

They had their usual guy behind the kit, Torbitt Schwartz, back the week after, for a little extra slink alongside most of the regular band, which also comprises bassist Jeremy Willms and trombonist Dave Smith.

Rev. Vince Anderson’s Union Pool residency continues this Monday, July 31 at around 10:30 PM. And Henderson’s weekly residency with Binky Griptite continues on Wednesdays in  August at around 8 at Threes Brewing, 113 Franklin St. at Kent Ave in Greenpoint.

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Austin’s Best Band Comes to Brooklyn’s Best Venue This Saturday Night

Is Money Chicha’s album Echo en Mexico the heaviest cumbia ever made? Decide for yourself – it’s streaming at Soundcloud.  Just listen, for example, to the string-torturing axe-murderer guitar solo at the end of their version of Juaneco Y Su Combo’s classic, wordless elegy for a plane crash,  Lamento En La Selva, which opens the album. If psychedelic music, the magically trebly, trippy sounds of 1970s Peru, or the idea of dancing your ass off are your thing, get that ass down to Barbes this Saturday night, July 30 at 10 PM where this Austin band – a Grupo Fantasma spinoff – are headlining. A near-capacity crowd crammed into the place last night to see Locobeach – another spinoff of a famous band, in this case cumbia icons Chicha Libre – and they were playing mostly covers. So you’d better get there early.

What’s coolest about this band is how they cycle through just about every kind of psychedelic cumbia ever made: the brisk vamps of Juaneco’s cumbia selvetica; the allusive menace of Lima bands like Los Mirlos; the eclectic sparkle of Los Destellos and the outside-the-box surrealism of Chicha Libre, probably the band they ultimately resemble the most.

The album’s  second track, Level One Sound’s Quieren Efectos, has everything you could want from a classic cumbia jam: catchy minor-key tune, woozy wah guitar, a slinky groove, bright rat-tail organ riffs, trippy dub echoes and a suspenseful timbale beat that threatens to break completely loose but never does.

The title cut shuffles along briskly toward the graveyard, awash in reverb, haunted roller-rink organ and evil flangey guitar. The majestic, metallic guitar solo midway through reminds that the core of this band also play in Black Sabbath reinventors Brownout. Then they completely flip the script with the playful, cartoonish Animalitos: tiny elephants made from sweet crunchy dough = gourmet stoner munchies, no?

Cosa Verde, built around a simple, emphatic riff, looks back to the harder-rocking, classic Lima bands of the late 60s and early 70s like Los Diablo Rojos: the warpy tremoloing guitars really nail that era’s tinny studio sonics, beefed up with fat current-era low end and an unexpectedly dark bridge.

Cumbia Familiar is a very thinly disguised remake of a famous island tv theme first surfed out by the Ventures; this one has all kinds of spacy dub touches wafting through the mix. The album’s best track, Chicha Negra is also is darkest, simmering and swooshing with evil chromatics, serpentine organ and warptone guitar. Its mirror image is the Chicha Libre classic Papageno Electrico, a picture that completes itself when the organ joins the guitar duel at the end.

Yo No Soy Turku is a mashup of the blippy Mediterranean psychedelia of bands like Annabouboula and the macabre Turkish surf rock of Beninghove’s Hangmen. Likewise, the tricky, constantly shifting metrics and horror movie organ of 3 Balls continue the sinister tangent through a strange, dubby outro.

Cumbia Del Tamborcito is the album’s most dubwise and epic track, veering from a staggering intro, back and forth through gritty guitar-fueled intensity and lushly enveloping, nebulously smoky sonics. The final cut is La Cordillera, a deliciously doomy flamenco-metal song in cumbia disguise. Is the coolest album of the last several months or what?

Innov Gnawa and Amadou & Mariam at the Peak of Their Psychedelic Powers at Prospect Park

“It’s hot all over,” guitarist/singer Amadou Bagayoko remarked to the Prospect Park Bandshell crowd last night in his heavy-lidded, Malian French drawl. On the hottest night of the year so far, one of the other things he noticed that was all over the place was weed. See, Amadou is blind. His other senses are working overtime.

But it hardly took a sensitive nose to pick up on what was wafting from the slope out back: this was a show for the smokers. And the place was packed: from personal experience and a survey of random concertgoers who’ve seen multiple show here recemtly, the only act who’s drawn as much of a crowd as Amadou & Mariam was Jamaican dancehall star Chronixx. Psychedelic music has never been so popular as it is in 2017.

Which is no surprise. Amadou & Mariam are arguably the world’s most individualistic psychedelic rock band. Over the years, they’ve inched further and further from their original mashup of sprawling two-chord Malian desert rock jams and bouncy central African pop, to a much more western sound rooted in the 1960s. And they’ve never sounded so interesting, or eclectic as they are now.

Mariam Doumbia – Amadou’s wife and childhood sweetheart – sang in her enigmatic, uneasily bronzed, sometimes gritty delivery in both French and Bambara, often harmonizing with Amadou’s balmy croon, going through a couple of costume changes in the process. Behind them, their drummer alternated between stomp, slink and funk while their bassist played tasteful, serpentine riffs and countermelodies, their keyboardist adding lushness and lustre on organ and several synth patches.

They opened with Bofou Safou, their driving, biting new single, sending a message that this show was going to rock pretty hard. From there they made their way methodically through a couple of leaping dance-funk numbers that brought to mind mid-80s Talking Heads, a starry nightscape with majestic Pink Floyd echoes, several similarly mighty blues-based anthems and a deliciously creepy detour into late 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia.

It was on that allusively menacing number that Amadou took his longest, wildest, solo of the night. While his playing sometimes brings to mind the feral icepicking of Albert Collins, the twangy sparkle of Mark Knopfler and the machinegunning hammer-ons of Vieux Farka Toure, he doesn’t seem to be influenced by any of them, and with the exception of his countryman and younger colleague Toure, may not have even heard those guys. Winding up and down and around, he brought his long trails of sixteenth notes home to a final comet tail and wild applause. The band have a new album due out next month: if this concert is any indication, it’s going to be amazing.

Brooklyn’s own Innov Gnawa, whose career has taken a meteoric rise recently, opened and got a full hour onstage, a rarity at this venue. The sea of fans they’d brought to the show might explain why. Fresh off a Coachella appearance and a marathon series of New York club gigs, it’s hard to imagine a hotter band in town right now.

The only gnawa band in the world west of Morocco, they play the original drum-and-bass music. With roots in sub-Saharan, pre-Muslim central Africa, transplanted to the north, many of their hypnotic, pulsing, crackling themes date from over a thousand years ago. It’s party music, for sure, but it has even more cultural resonance for healing and spiritual purposes. With limited time (for them – this band can jam for hours) and a big stage to work with, they clanked and boomed and snapped their way through a dynamic mix of straight-ahead dance jams and trickier, turn-on-a-dime rhythms, winding up with frontman/sintir lute player Hassan Ben Jaafer running his basslines faster and faster as his chanting choir of bandmates whirled their cast-iron castnets, encircling him and bringing the show to a peak that would have been daunting to most headliners other than Amadou & Mariam.

Amadou & Mariam continue on US tour; their next show is on July 24 at 6:30 PM at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago; admission is free. Innov Gnawa are uptown at Ginny’s Supper Club on July 27, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30  PM; your best deal is standing room at the bar for $15.

The next show at Prospect Park Bandshell is tomorrow night, July 22 at 7:30 PM and opens auspiciously with Innov Gnawa percussionist Amino Belyamani’s similarly innovative, mesmerizingly rhythmic dancefloor minimalist trio, Dawn of Midi. Jury’s out on the headliner: are Mashrou ‘Leila the Lebanese Cure, or just another lame corporate dance-rock act?

A Long, Strange, Psychedelic New York Week, Part Two

In two parts – part one is here

After seeing Cameroonian singer Blick Bassy‘s unexpectedly psychedelic New York debut at Lincoln Center Thursday night, it was fun to wind up the evening at Barbes with a whole set by cinematic Venezuelan-American psychedelic instrumental trio Los Crema Paraiso. After taking their time loading their loop pedals, they played most of their newest album, De Pelicula to projections of segments from 1970s Venezuelan films: a road movie, a comedy and maybe a documentary or two.

When they do their all-instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond, they usually play the whole monstrosity – this time the crowd got just the short version. Bittersweetly summery highway themes, frenetic volleys of tremolo-picking from guitarist José Luis Pardo, slinky and emphatic basslines from Bam Bam Rodriguez and the shapeshifting rhythms of drummer Neil Ochoa were mostly live, although both Pardo and Rodriguez’s pedals kicked in with some simple harmony lines or hazy textures from time to time, as their bouncy chamame rock themes unwound. At the end, they played their cover of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World, and finally, after having sufffered through that atrocity more than once before, it made sense – as theme music for a montage of banana republic dictators and their crimes. In this band’s hands, it became a horrible song about horrible people.

Saturday afternoon, it was even more annoying to miss almost all of psychedelic latin soul stars Chicano Batman’s set at Central Park Summerstage. The same thing happened with Roy Ayers’ set on Sunday  too. Both acts ended up going on an hour ahead of schedule, and a lot of people who showed up were disappointed. Five minutes of Bardo Martinez’s magic-carpet organ textures against Carlos Arévalo’s similarly kaleidoscopic guitar were tantalizing to the point of being painful.

And while it’s impossible to hate on Los Pericos – the Argentine ska-reggae crew has been around for thirty years and sound better now than their records from the 80s – it was also impossible to get out of sulk mode for them. Their tunes are catchy, their choruses go to more interesting places than most current roots reggae acts do, and just when it seemed they were about to get bogged down in a vampy, simplistic rut, they finally hit a grey-sky, Steel Pulse-ish minor-key groove. But all that was no substitute for the group originally schedued to headline this bill.

Back at home base Barbes on Saturday night, singer Chi-Chi Glass provided solace in the form of an unselfconsciously psychedelic solo set that she opened with a segment from an Albeniz piano suite. From there she built a synth-and-cajon suite of her own based on a Peruvian folk theme, sang a revolutionary folk tune in Quecha and finally encored with a haunting setting of a Maya Angelou poem, part noir cha-cha, part classical tone poem, part eerie art-rock.

A Long, Strange, Psychedelic New York Week

In two parts

It’s been a psychedelic week. Any week can be psychedelic if you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s just that this one had music to match the surrealism of the dream state that’s been a daily reality for Americans since the election. Over the past several days, the former’s made it a lot easier to get through the latter.

Blick Bassy’s latest album is spare and pensive, offering no hint of how trippy and magnetic his live show would be. Introducing the Cameroonian singer in his New York debut at Lincoln Center Thursday evening, impresario Jordana Phokompe was clearly stoked to have finally booked him here after seeing him play at Womex a couple of years ago. It was worth the wait.

Colorfully and loosely garbed, red goggle shades perched on his head (he never put them on), he was a much more forceful and magnetic presence than his rather gentle and austere recent work would indicate. And the performance was infinitely more psychedelic. That Bassy would sing in his native vernacular – one of more than 250 languages, many of them endangered, spoken in his country – added to the enigmatic ambience. Yet emotional content, at least at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, were distinct, especially in a wrenching lament, and the long mini-suite of love songs that ended the show, his cat-ate-the-canary croon a dead giveaway.

For most of the set, he played banjo, fingerpicking it judiciously rather than frailing the strings bluegrass-style. Toward the end, he picked up what looked like a child’s model Telecaster  and fingerpicked intricate, rippling, kora-like upper-register phrases in a spiny, open tuning

That his trio would have such unorthodox instrumentation, let alone that trombonist Johan Blanc and cellist Clément Petit would put on such a wall-bending display of extended technique, raised the surrealism factor several notches. Blanc was in charge of atmospherics with his low, looming phrases, often playing through a loop pedal or switching to a mini-keyboard and mixer. At one point, he ran Bassy’s vocals through the keyboard and built a harmony line with them as he sang. Of course, Blanc could simply have sung that harmony part himself, but the strange effect would have been lost

Petit is Bassy’s not-so-secret weapon. There were a few places where he held down somber, ambered sustained notes, or threw off a jaunty glissando or two, but mostly he plucked out basslines. As intricate as they grew, Petit never got too busy, often fattening the sound via an octave pedal which sent his cello down low into a rabbit hole where cellos usually can’t go. And he didn’t limit his lines to blues or rock. Like the bandleader, he spiraled through some kora-like phrases, and for a second even evoked the otherworldly bounce of Moroccan gnawa trance music.

Bassy is a diehard fan of plaintive, intense American blues iconoclast Skip James, so it was no surprise that the highlight of the show turned out to be after some amusing stage shtick, where Bassy looped a couple of bars from an old James record and then played variations that took the song straight back to its African roots.

The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center is this Thursday, July 20 at 7:30 PM with a relevance much closer to home: Brooklyn-based, Gil Scott-Heron influenced Brooklyn hip-hop duo Quincy Vidal. The show is free, so getting to the space on time is crucial. 

After the Blick Bassy show, it was great fun to catch a whole set by cinematic psychedelic trio Los Crema Paraiso across the river. You can find out what happened in part two, here. 

High-Voltage African and American Sounds From Central Park to the River

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.’s first song this past evening at Central Park Summerstage was Expensive Shit. As a literal, graphic condemnation of wretched capitalist excess and status-grubbing, it has few equals. Fela Kuti’s son and principal heir to the family Afrobeat legacy probably spat the word “shit” more times during the roughly ten minutes it took for the band to bubble and rise and finally bring the relentless underlying vamp to a close, than any other act has done at this venue in many years.

Kuti has been fortunate to sidestep the kind of brutal repression his father faced, but he’s no less fearlessly political. His second song, a defiantly triumphant pro-ganja anthem with a fervent refrain of “Lemme see your lighters,” was a red herring. The younger Kuti shares his dad’s withering sarcasm. He welcomed the audience into the era of fake news – “News that’s for profit,” he explained – by reminding that Nigerians knew all about it before it became part and parcel of White House correspondence. A little later on, introducing African Dreams – a broadside against western cultural imperialism – he snidely commented that “Conscious capitalism doesn’t exist.”

Leading an endlessly undulating fourteen-piece band, he took a quick turn on piano and then showed off a bracing, bitingly metallic tone and a no-nonsense, modally tinged sensibility on alto sax. The percussion section emerged stealthily from a quiet thicket and grew toward a stampede as the brass blazed, the electric piano rippled and the two guitars – one a tenor model for extra upper-register tingle – ran jaggedly circling melodies along with a similarly purposeful bass player, throughout what would become an unexpectedly abbreviated set.

Many people in the crowd – especially those who showed up to see the advertised headliner and consequently missed the guy they came for – were surprised not to see Roy Ayers headlining. He’s certainly earned that respect. He also didn’t get much more than three quarters of an hour onstage, leading his four-piece band through expansive takes of Red, Gold and Green, Everybody Loves the Sunshine and finally, Searchin’.

While he saved his most high-voltage playing for a long solo with Kuti’s band, the iconic vibraphonist who more or less invented noir psychedelic soul put on a clinic in purist, seat-of-the-pants tunesmithing, whether with endless volleys of bluesy triplets, rapidfire chromatics or playing against the beat. His band stayed pretty much on low-key, glimmering point, although they lost the crowd when they went off into warpy keytar spacerock and a snapping, popping, faux Bootsy bass solo. They won them back again with a tight drum solo where the guy behind the kit played the whole thing one-handed, then with both sticks behind his back, finally flipping them forward over his shoulders, and kept going without missing a beat.

Hometown opening act Underground System justified the ambition of sharing a bill with two more-or-less iconic acts through the afternoon’s longest set, a mix of original Afrobeat with a more straight-up funk tune or two and also a whirling Italian womens’ rights anthem. Frontwoman/flutist Domenica Fossati really worked up a sweat with her dance moves; if she was a sheik, her last name would be Yerbouti. Guitarist Peter Matson and keyboardist Colin Brown pinged and rippled and threw off a few clouds of toxic noise, drummer Yahoteh Kokayi and percussionist Lollise Mbi held the beast to the rails while the horn section – including baritone saxophonist Maria Christina Eisen and trumpeter Jackie Coleman – smoldered and sputtered and bassist David Cutler ran simple, emphatically circling riffs that would have made Fela proud. Their high point was the brassy Rent Party, something Fossati said the band knew a little something about. From there they segued into their most ominous, dynamically shadowy number of the afternoon.

Afterward, many faces n the crowd went west to the Hudson, where Innov Gnawa – the only Moroccan drum-and-bass trance band in this hemisphere – played what amounted to the afterparty. In more than ten years of concerts at Pier One at 70th Street and the river, it’s impossible to think of another show that had so many people dancing, from toddlers to oldtimers.

And they did that to ancient animist and Muslim themes originally dating from thousands of years ago in sub-Saharan Africa, sung in Arabic to the hypnotic pulse of sintir bass lute and cast-iron qraqab castanets. This was a slightly smaller subgroup of the band, Moroccan master Hassan Ben Jaafer taking turns with his similarly agile protege Samir LanGus riffing on the low strings. Some of the songs worked a tension between octave notes, others bounced and swayed along with crescendoing call-and-response choruses. As the night went on, Ben Jaafer subtly introduced all sorts of tricky polyrhythms and suspensefully allusive chromatics hinting but never quite crossing into Egypt.

Qraqab player Amino Belyamani sauntered into the dancing melee midway through the show and taught everybody some snazzy moves, complete with a split-second squat in the middle – and by the end of the show, a lot of people had all that pretty cold. Innov Gnawa’s next gig is at Prospect Park Bandshell this Friday night, July 21 at 7:30 PM where they’re opening for wildly popular, microtonal psychedelic Malian band Amadou & Mariam. The next show at Summerstage is tomorrow night, July 17 where 90s noiserock icons and occasional cinematic soundscapers Yo La Tengo hit at around 8. Be aware that there’s an opening act; doors at 6 for those not willing to take chances.

Chicano Batman, the Hottest Thing in Latin and Psychedelic Soul, Hit Central Park This Weekend

Chicano Batman are the hottest thing in psychedelic soul right now – or maybe in all of soul music, for that matter. Over the course of their eclectic career, they’ve done everything from noir psychedelia to  LA lowrider grooves as well as  more tropical sounds. Their latest album Freedom Is Free – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most traditionally 60s soul-oriented, yet with the psychedelic touches they’re best known for. They’re the highlight of a triplebill this Satutday,  July 15 at around 5 PM at Central Park Summerstage. A generically dancey band open the afternoon at 3ish; popular 80s Argentine janglerockers Los Pericos headline atfterward if you feel like sticking around for your nostalgia fix .Get there on time if you’re going

The album opens with Passed You By, a gorgeous oldschool soul ballad  that sounds like the Zombies covering the Stylistics, with Binky Griptite in elegant mode on lead guitar. The reverb on frontman Bardo Martinez’s organ, backing vocals and echoey guitar fragments add subtle psychedelic touches to the point where the whole is a lot bigger than the sum of its parts – this band is very good at doing that.

Martinez  turns up his organ’s roto all the way over drummer Gabriel Villa’s scrambling shuffle groove, like the Soul Brothers with hints of James Brown, in Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm). Angel Child is a real trip: strutting bass, woozy wah guitar, lysergically pulsing Sergeant Pepper textures and a little in-the-pocket James Brown all mashed up together.

Bassist Eduardo Arenas’ snappy drive fuels the album’s sunny title track, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo shows off his elegant Hendrixian chosp on the spiky, psychedleic intro to the understatedly plaintive, Os Mutantes-tinged La Jura, a feast of vintage organ and vintage analog synth textures. All the trick endings raise the surrealism level several notches.

The band balances rapidfire precision – check out Arévalo’s wry wah-wah guitar solo – with a lingering red-sunset atmosphere in Flecha Al Sol. Jealousy is not the creepy Ninth House dirge but an artfully assembled, crescendoing  original – is that a weird low-register synth patch, or Arenas’ bass running through a fuzztone pedal? It’s anybody’s guess.

The band follows the delicious jangles and ripples of the bouncy latin funk intro Right Off the Back with Run, a swaying, shapeshifting mini-epic sparkling with blippy organ, flitting congas, mosquito guitar, soaringly orchestrated choruses featuring New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache and a couple of unexpectedly balmy organ interludes.

The album’s longest and best track, The Taker Story, is an anti-imperialist broadside, part Isaac Hayes hot butter, part Gil Scott-Heron, with a hazy latin tint. Over a leaping, trickily polyrhythmic groove, Martinez traces many thousand years of colonization and relentless exploitation. “You can’t believe that native people are still around,” Martinez intones with withering sarcasm. The album winds up with the uneasily rippling psych-folk theme Area C. This is going to be the summer jam for an awful lot of people in 2017.

Deep Roots and New Reggae at SOB’s Last Night

Signal Fire opened a roots reggae twinbill at SOB’s last night that was as much a delicious throwback to the golden age of roots reggae as it was a look at where slinky one-drop sounds might go in the future. You might assume that Wilmington, North Carolina would be a hotspot for Americana sounds – Mark Sinnis calls the place home now – but it’s actually a college town with a surprisingly eclectic music scene. Signal Fire fit the mold of current-day American roots reggae bands, but they keep the sound closer to the ground, rooted in the earth. Guitarist/singer Sean Gregory would hit his distortion pedal for a blast of fire when the smoke threatened to go out, but otherwise he and the rest of the band – bassist Cullen Seward, drummer Ken Forrest and keyboardist Carl Blackmon – kept the low-key, blue-flame vamps going, closer to the Roots Radics in the late 70s at their most purposeful. In an age when so many so-called reggae bands are really just upper-middle-class white stoners taking a stab at funky rock through a ganja haze, what Signal Fire are doing is awfully refreshing.

As is Jesse Royal. What a diversely talented band this guy has. The drummer spiced the music with unexpected rolls and tumbles, the bassist anchoring it with murderous downtuned chords and deep-channel swoops up to the top of the fretboard. The lead guitarist’s elegant, shapeshifting textures occasionally gave way to  Hendrix-inspired flashes and flickers, enveloped in bubbly organ, raspy synth brass or woozily tinkling electric piano from the keyboardist.

In his resonant, melismatic baritone, Royal didn’t go straight for the romantic stuff either. He railed against 700 years of injustice and then celebrated finally being able to smoke up in peace in the night’s most wildly applauded number, Finally. Several numbers later, after he finally asked if he could play one for the ladies, he led the band through the ornate vintage 60s style soul ballad Next to You, which without the toasting could have been a Smokey Robinson hit.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot more toasting in roots reggae lyrics than there used to beL dancehall has left a lasting mark. But  Royal’s is a lot closer to Eek-a-Mouse, or Yellowman without the smut, or vintage U-Roy than, say, Elephant Man. Likewise, the band’s steady, undulating skank would have worked perfectly behind, say, Freddie McGregor forty years ago. And for all his conscious lyrics and seriousness, Royal has a sense of humor. “I feel very close to this song,” he confided midway through the set. He paused: “it’s the first single off the new album.” For people who might have left reggae behind when the first wave of classic acts from the 70s began falling off the nostalgia circuit, Royal represents Jamaica in a way that an awful lot of golden-age artists used to. Let’s hope this is a trend.

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

A Colossally Heavy Triplebill at Drom This Past Evening

Dead Wake. Their first gig? Fooled me!” Imminent Sonic Destruction frontman Tony Piccoli wasn’t alone in thinking that. A lot of great bands have made memorable debuts at Drom over the years, but very few rock acts as heavy as Dead Wake. From how acrobatically and expertly they made their way through brain-warping metric changes and stylistic shifts, it’s obvious that all of these guys have had plenty of experience. Still, you never expect a band to come out of the chute firing on as many cylinders as these guys did. and with a combination of as much finesse and relentless assault. They could have headlined this killer night of cutting-edge metal that also featured Pennsylvania’s Next to None along with ISD.

One aspect that sets Dead Wake apart is how they vary the vocals. Frontman Sam Smith does the pigsnorting guttural deathmetal thing, while six-string bassist  Rob Zahn supplies the Dickinsonian grand guignol. His big, boomy, toxic clouds of chords anchored many of the songs, but it was his elegant Rime of the Ancient Mariner of a solo that was one of the set’s high points. Guitarist Lance Barnewold – stage right, wearing a Metallica shirt – fired off one sizzling volley of tapping after another, while his counterpart across the way, Steven Drizis, had more of a resonant solar flare attack. Drummer Marc Capellupo made the constant tempo shifts look easy: you can hear echoes that go all the way back to Queensryche and Pantera in their music, but their mashup of thrash, doom and orchestral grandeur is unlike any other band out there.

Next to None were even more stylistically diverse, and just as individualistic. Frontman/keyboardist Thomas Cuce proved equally capable as bovine bellower and operatic apocalypse messenger. It was his creepy, Messiaenic organ interlude that turned out to be the band’s high point on stage, although guitarist Derrick Schneider’s valkyrie savagery and biting sarcasm gave the music a lot more color than most thrash bands can deliver. They also had the night’s heaviest rhythm section, as you would expect from a bassist who’s a Slipknot fan.

Barely half an hour into Imminent Sonic Destruction’s set, Piccoli glanced up from his guitar to the sound booth. He’d been given the signal – by his own sound guy, no less. – that the band had one song left.

That song turned out to be twenty minutes long, part pastoral Zep, part Peter Gabriel-era Genesis on steroids, part merciless stomp. Guitarist Scott Thompson channeled grimly spare rainy-day Jimmy Page while Piccoli’s lightning runs looked back to the James Hetfield playbook. Earlier in the set, Piccoli had sent electric chair shivers down everybody’s spines with his slides down the fretboard, along with an ice storm of tremolo-picking that would have made Dick Dale jealous. Bassist Bryan Paxton held down the stygian low end and matched that with the occasional zombie-bogman growl, while drummer Pat Deleon made all the epic twists and turns look easy. Keyboardist Pete Hopersberger sang the quieter passages, spinning classical piano flourishes, psychedelic organ and ominous clouds of synth.

They opened with the doomy calculus of I Am the Fall, then made Breaking Through, another twenty-minute monstrosity,, equal parts symphonic grandeur and knee-to-the-face thud. Outside of Golden Fest or this past January’s multi-band extravaganzas at this club, it’s hard to think of a triplebill this year as relentlessly interesting as this one.