For a band whose prime narrative is about one’s relationship with a terminally ill child, The Antlers are capable of a surprising amount of on stage energy. When I first saw them at DC9 I was impressed at how well the sad, haunting melodies worked live, but to be fair DC9 is tiny. 9:30 Club, on the other hand, represented a bigger challenge, one front man Peter Silberman and band met but didn’t exactly tear up. For big Antlers fans like myself, the set was great fun, with Silberman’s strong-but-aching vocals, Darby Cicci’s haunting keyboard, and Michael Lerner’s excellent percussion work. But I don’t think they made many converts of The Editors fans in attendance.
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The evening opened with The City Champs of Memphis, Tennessee. Their sound—instrumental funk and soul-jazz—was the perfect warm-up for the North Mississippi Allstars and before long the Allstars had the crowd swaying their hips to “Write Me a Few Little Lines”. As it gained momentum it ultimately molded into “Drop Down Mama”, which paired Phish-like harmonies with a jamming southern rock drive all topped off with a Luther Dickinson guitar solo—the first of many.
Luther’s playing had a distinctly curved tone; it sounded as if he was simply bending the strings on his instrument as opposed to picking. At times his phrasing reflected Duane Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band, crossed with a little Taj Mahal. Chris Chew (electric bass and vocals) was smooth yet animated. One moment he would be swinging with the melody before suddenly growing a funky attitude. When he sang, particularly on “I’d Love to be a Hippy”, his voice possessed a dose of soulful rasp.
Rounding out the trio was multi-instrumentalist, and Luther’s brother, Cody Dickinson. Not only could Cody drive a nasty beat, but he completely rocked out on washboard during “Psychedelic Sex Machine”. The results were explosive as he scraped and skidded his hands across the ridges. After seemingly climaxing and exhausting all possible washboard virtuosity, Cody hit the wah-wah pedal taking his washboard shredding to the next level.
Soon after the City Champs joined the Allstars onstage. The collaboration added drummer George Sluppick, organist Al Gamble and guitarist Joe Restivo while Cody of the Allstars joined the Restivo and Luther on guitar. Together the bands projected the attitude, and sounds, of roadhouse blues with a Memphis emphasis.
During the Allstars main set they played nearly every track on their 2000 debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, ending it with a cover of R.L. Burnside’s “Snake Drive”. The band naturally returned for an encore, culminating in the hypersonic “Preachin’ Blues”, each member soloing at a rapid pace, only to unite for a composed ending.
Despite the fact that Roger Miller once sang, “Fame and fortune is the game I play”, recognition and success clearly eluded Mission of Burma during their brief initial run. So it’s hard to resent the band for their decision to reform, especially since, unlike some other, recently reunited, Bostonian indie-rock legends, they’ve justified their existence by releasing three new records that make a strong argument for continued relevance.
Tortoise’s wide ranging, if short, February American tour greeted an eager crowd at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace (their lone Canadian stop) on Thursday February 18th. The show was intensely focused while remaining expertly loose, as their signature experimental, post-rock, jazz flowed with almost no introduction, interruption or chatter. Touring on the strength of their 2009 album, Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise’s show also heavily featured tracks from the older TNT, a setlist choice that was embraced by the crowd. Highlights included “Swung from the Gutters” (which still seems like it needs to be featured in a soundtrack to a Tarantino-esque movie), the still hot, dynamic title track, “TNT” (to which the packed crowd could only nod appreciatively although many of us wanted to dance), and “I Set My Face to the Hillside” with its evocative mood of an otherworldly Spaghetti Western. The new up-tempo single, rock based and typically cheekily-titled, “Prepare Your Coffin”, introduced new layers to the established tones of TNT. The music, whether a short, three minute track or seven minute epic, always seemed to evoke a unique mood and feeling, a mini narrative. All of this music flowed seamlessly through a set that saw band members switch instruments and positions on the suddenly miniscule-looking stage (which was dominated by two drum kits front and centre that faced each other, a nice thouch of further symmetry). Though there was hardly a word spoken to the crowd throughout the set, the musicians, like their wordless musical storytelling, spoke well for themselves, easily drawing the same enthusiasm as many a posturing rocker has clumsily begged for. The only complaint about a near perfect show is that the big sounds of Tortoise were criminally underserved in the confines of a medium sized rock venue like Lee’s. In a perfect scenario they would always, and only, exist in midsummer at mid-evening of an open air music festival with space enough for the masses that should experience this event.
Chicago blues master Buddy Guy had been tearing up the stage but 20 minutes before he ceased playing to admit: “I’m going to mess up tonight…you guys are making me feel good; I’m feeling real fucking good!” And with that Guy chuckled as his fingers danced about the neck of his guitar. In response the audience naturally roared with delight, egging Guy to further unleash his musical spunk.
// Moving Pixels
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