23 January 2007

Review: Rotary Downs|Amandla > Big Sam's Funky Nation

Tap Bar|Lion's Den, 19 January 2007

(photos courtesy of Greg Aiello)

Trust Dee. I'd love to be able to say "Trust Me" but I've recommended some crap music in my day, although I'd like to think my batting average is decent. But Dee you can trust, and I'm glad I followed her advice and checked out Rotary Downs on Friday night.

The Tap Bar was pretty crowded, mostly with friendly faces, especially for a band playing its first gig in NYC. Conversation over drinks quickly cut itself short when the first chord was played. There was a certain presence in that first blip of sound: an energy, a certain "shut up and listen!" quality that only got more prevalent as the set went on. From the start the Pavement influences were incredibly obvious. The first tune felt like Steve Malkmus' various abilities had been yanked out separately -- his voice to the frontman/vocalist, his off-kilter guitar tone to the lead guitarist, his quirky sense of rhythm to the drummer. This was undoubtedly the tomato paste of the RD sound, but there were surprises that unfolded along the way that revealed an entirely original sound.

That first tune didn't take long to get to them, either, about 2/3 of the way through it split open and ran double or triple time, exploding with energy. Surprises were also abound in the instrumentation as a pedal steel showed a new side and sound -- a change of pace not unlike Apollo Sunshine's, in all honesty. Even more interesting was the appearance of a trumpet on certain tunes. That was one of the few overt shades of their New Orleans home. Yes, New Orleans now has a powerful, song-centric, indie-pop export to go with every other genre they've completely hoarded to themselves. The band was super-tight throughout, not afraid to open things up when warranted and seemed to get looser and more engaging as the night went on. And yes, the songs were that good and the playing even better to warrant all that enthusiasm. This show made me smile... and dance and rock out and buy the album on my way out the door, which is saying something. So yes, trust Dee... and check out her videos of their in-studio performance (especially this one) and the next night in Brooklyn (which I was way too tired to go to, despite really wanting a second helping.

The opener was Claude Coleman's band, Amandla. I've seen them a couple times and this was certainly the best of those, although I still have a problem with them. That problem being mainly the vocals. I can deal with poor vocals in a band, I understand it's kinda the hardest and last thing to nail. But this music -- and don't get me wrong, I think the songs are terrific at heart -- seems to rely heavily on harmony and hitting all the notes.

Headed over to the Lion's Den for some post-show show and to get the NOLA fix. The band was called Big Sam's Funky Nation which is just about the lamest name for a band I could possibly think of. Do you have to put "funky" in the title? Well, yeah, it was funky, but let the music speak for itself. These guys are who they are, a perfect microcosm of the funky New Orleans party band, complete with Skerik sit-ins and the drunk, Tulane-heavy crowd. There is a place for this kind of music and Big Sam fits between 1 and 3 am like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The crowd was friendly, freaky and in fill TGIF mode. So don't look at me with your sneering hipster detachment, it was a damn good time!

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