The last time Beninghove’s Hangmen played Brooklyn Bowl, they hit the stage with a single mghty, ominous minor chord and just let it resonate, and simmer, building a blue-flame ambience that would recur again and again throughout the show. Frontman Bryan Beninghove’s tenor sax blended with Rick Parker’s looming trombone, Dane Johnson’s guitar fanning the flames as guest drummer Kevin Shea (of Mostly Other People Do the Killing) brought in a hailstorm of cymbals, Johnson finally firing off a creepy Turkish lick, and then they were off into the horror surf of Hangmen’s Manouche. There is no more menaciungly cinematic band on the planet than these guys right now. For musical cinephiles across the Hudson, they’re playing Saturday night, January 16 at 10 PM at the Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave. in Jersey City heights. For serious adventurers coming from this side of the river, you’re better off taking the Path to Hoboken and then making the trek uphill than you are trying to get there from Journal Square at the center of town.
That first number was epic: chugging call-and-response, shuddering elephantine groans, a smoky roadhouse blues sax solo from the bandleader and a Lizzie Borden guitar solo that went on just as long. And a trick ending, and then the band sped it up! So the morose stroll of the title track to their amazing forthcoming album Pineapples and Ashtrays made a contrast, all the more so as the band took their time through gentle Bill Frisell pastoral colors…and then got more menacing, then followed a murderous/charming dichotomy through a series of droll 60s cocktail-party jazz interludes, after which the axe-murderer intensity would go up several notches. Beninghove can be a real cutup onstage, and he was here, unable to resist hitting a sarcastic siren motif at one point.
From there they went into Lynchian dub, Parker’s low-flying thunderclouds matched by bassist Ezra Gale’s broodingly minimalist low-end pulse. And as the horns gleamed, and soared upward, suddenly it was clear: they were making crime jazz out of Burning Spear’s iconic hit, Marcus Garvey! For all the relentless darkness in this band’s music, they’re pretty hilarious.
Gale’s stalking bass pushed the gritty, Doorsy nocturnal groove that followed, Beninghove’s horn chart bringing to mind Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night score as Johnson played sunbaked acid blues. From there the band scampered furtively through the getaway anthem Surf ‘N Turk, then made tongue-in-cheek, Nick Cave-inflected psychedelia out of an old Neil Diamond radio hit and treated the bowlers to the right of the stage to an even funnier, manic Viking jazz cover of a Led Zep number.
Super Hi-Fi headlined. One of the tourists at the bowling lanes adjacent to the stage asked Gale – who was pulling a doubleheader – what they were playing. He did a doubletake, then responded, “Christmas music, that’s what!” And he was telling the truth. The twin-trombone dub reggae band recorded and remixed more than a couple of sides of pretty hilarious, spot-on Lee Scratch Perry style dub versions of Christmas carols a couple of years ago, and have released them in two volumes of what they call A Very Dubby Christmas. This show gave them the chance to take their time with some of the tracks from the latest one.
What makes Super Hi-Fi so much more interesting than your typical reggae band that just vamps on a couple of chords for what seems like hours on end is how much detail they fill in the blanks with: there’s always something fun and unexpected going on. Who knew that guitarist Jon Lipscomb was going to go off into skronky downtown jazz? Or how drummer Madhu Siddappa was going to hold things together with a dead-serious one-drop pulse. Overhead, Parker – also doing double duty – traded wry phrases with fellow ‘bone player Kevin Moehringer when they weren’t trying to keep straight faces as they made their way through happily brief snippets of holiday “favorites” like We Three Kings and the like. Afrobeat and the Specials permeated Irving Berlin and poker-faced Teutonic year-end themes with an irresistibly smoky grin, with the occasional tumble toward free jazz freakout or straight-ahead Skatalites skank. Considering how these two bands share members, another twinbill wouldn’t be out of the question.