01 April 2008

Review: The New Mastersounds

To my loyal readers: I apologize from the depths of my heart. Sorry for being so negligent with this blog. You deserve better. The worst part of it is that I've got a bunch of shows to review for you and have just been a slacker/old man. I'll try to do better. To that end, some words about shows seen in March:

Sullivan Hall, 15 March 2008

Back to Sullivan Hall to catch the New Mastersounds. I guess it was more than just a redesign and name change because I've been back to that room more in the past 3 months than I had been to the Lion's Den like ever. This time it was for a band I've been dying to check out for a long time. You know the drill: first someone name drops (dude, New Mastersounds... heady!), then a few months later someone hands you a CD or you assume they did because when you're going through your pockets the next morning it's there, amazingly intact, unlike your whiskey-addled stomach; you lay it down on the shelf where it sits for another 6-8 weeks before something compels you to check it out, which you do; wow! this sounds like the Meters, except maybe better and maybe a little bit more British, I'm definitely going to check these guys out; then the waiting game, then a date in the city you'd like to check out but it doesn't work out because your sister-in-law is in town or you've got to catch up on the backlog of Lost episodes on the DVR and then a year or so later you're looking at upcoming shows and you see the band, the date and the time and you cross-reference with your calendar and double-check with the ole ball and chain and then you tentatively make plans.... and then the plans actually bear out and you see them... and it was worth it.

For something as tried and true and amazingly infectious like the Meters sound it's hard to imagine it has been reproduced so poorly over the decades. Yeah, there are influences and bands that cover, but really carry the flag properly have been few and far between. Galactic had a stab at it, but were too unwieldy to stick to just one sound like that -- they did a good homage, have a few killer renditions and are influenced by the Meters sound in the Freudian way we are influenced by our parents, but they strayed. The New Mastersounds on the other hand, seem to have traveled back in time circa 1973, stolen the souls of Art, George, Zigaboo and Leo and brought them back to England where the slinky guitar-and-organ funk music mutated into something so old fashioned it sounded new. To add fuel to this theory, I note that "The New Mastersounds" can be scrambled into an anagram for "The Meters Sounds? Naw!" Still don't believe me? Fuck you.

Anyway, the show back a couple weeks at Sullivan Hall was packed to the gills, sold out and filled with the usual funk-luvin' suspects as well as a few of the merely curious. Filled with pizza, wine and beer from a nice dinner outing, a stomach on edge from a week's round of antibiotics (da strep done none kind on the OTW family this month), plus my foot in seriously developing pain from some source-as-of-yet-to-be-determined injury, I had no tolerance for the crowd. Any room can become a side thorn when filled from bar to stage, but Sullivan seems to be one of those especially prone to sold out uncomforabilities. Still, I was determined to stick it out as long as I could and thankfully that stretch involved the entire first set. The band was blazing hot and wasted no time getting deep into it. There seemed to be a one-to-one correspondence between their tunes and the Meters repertoire: this one's their "Look a Py-Py" and that one's "Cissy Strut," to the point where it's not clear what's a cover (if there were any) and what's an original. Of course, it didn't matter one lick. The band was tight and loose and swinging the joint like it was the funk-loving, Wetlands-attending early aughts. In fact, the feeling I had was what I remember feeling the first couple times I saw Soulive. One of sheer astonishment, giddy excitement and sweat-inducing boogie. These guys can flat out groove and did so non-stop for a nice long set.

And yet, I maybe misspeak when I stick so adamantly to the Meters comparisons. These songs seem to breathe with a 21st century freedom so that the initial groove -- simple geometrical shapes of organ, drums, bass and guitar -- doesn't start and stop with the riff the way a Meters tune would. The riff persists, but it splits open, like an and presents little baby chicks that hop around in wild, improvised, "feed me" patterns. Yes, while the death knell may be tolling on the jamband genre The New Mastersounds looked, walked and quacked like an old fashioned jamtet at Sullivan Hall. It all centered around the guitar player who wanked groovaliciously all night long, riding the beat, urging the crowd and wailing away with quick fingering and fun free-for-alling. Good stuff.

A sax player came out and made it all a bit more pedestrian midset, but still lots of fun. My fear for this band is that the sound get stale. I'm not sure where they go from here. But, no matter, for now, you'd be a fool not to check these guys out. Of course, I hit my limit at set break and left just about coming apart at the seems. I wish I could say I made it home in one piece, but I did live to tell about it.

More coming...

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