A good pal uttered these words about a half hour into The Staxx Brothers’ dripping wet late night set at the Boom Boom Room, one of the last classic joints in San Francisco. It’s just the sort of shoulder-to-shoulder speakeasy a young, hyper-energetic band can experiment and fully stretch out in, and these Seattle-based funk-rockers ran out all the leash they got as they chased Sunday morning in a most Saturday night way.
“Thanks for sinning with us and sort of getting saved,” muttered a spent, smiling Davin Michael Stedman, the group’s possessed, off-kilter brilliant leader, as they skidded to a halt, Jesus in tow, around 3 am. This band takes the heart and head of church but without trying to disconnect all the wonderful, complicated things going on south of our beltlines – fucking towards freedom, seizing spirit wherever it arises, wisely understanding that laughter and enlightenment are drinking buddies. As with each previous time I’ve spent taking communion with Staxx, I found myself stomping, hip shakin’, giving a response to every call and generally enjoying incarnation that marries soul to bone, brain to balls, lips to all that’s worth kissing in this glorious mess of a world. We’re talking a love thang, and “not that hippie, dirty ass, backwards kind of love.” With Staxx, one understands that God is a dancer and is sometimes best understood when we do our steps horizontally.
My buddy’s utterance followed being impregnated with a “Pow!” by Stedman and my own coercion into doing a libidinous jelly roll onstage BUT before the pink gorilla came up and violated a smaller black ape. One takes such shenanigans in stride with The Staxx Brothers. Everything about them invites joyful mayhem as if the Marx Brothers had discovered a downstroke as lethal as their one-liners. But, all the cartoons-with-cocks goofing is gravy because when you strip away the saucy banter and hip thrusting what’s revealed is one of the hardest, tightest, groove-conscious acts today. It’s the same sleight-of-hand that made Parliament-Funkadelic, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even early Prince so original and lethal. If they’re staring at your tits – and believe me, MANY were mesmerized by The Staquelettes purple gripped tatas in SF – they’re paying attention. It’s what folks do with that attention once they’ve scored it that counts, and Staxx consistently whomp people upside the head with their chops, vocal prowess and ridiculously catchy catalogue. Being entertaining is undervalued, but being a great time AND knocking folks’ proverbial dicks in the dirt musically is where it’s at.
As usual, it was easy to forget that all that sound coming at you is being produced by just three guys. Chris O’Connor (guitar), Denali Williams (drums) and new bassist Jake Amster create a bedrock for the stampeding vocals from Stedman, rapper Ayo.O and The Staquelettes – Michelle O’Connor and Angela Rickard. For all the wildin’ in the foreground, the music remains sharp, focused, irrefutably tough, hitting every mark, and rising and falling to the needs of the song. It’s a sublime mix with the punch ‘n’ wow of the background vocals, saucy lyrics and lead turns, and increasingly they’re able to finesse going from a pounding funk bomb like “Westsound Union” to a stop-you-in-your-tracks reading of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” with equal instinct and conviction. Showboating is almost non-existent in Staxx, and even Steadman’s Groucho-level performance antics work perfectly in context, particularly when accented by the eye rolls and appropriate undercutting of The Staquelettes, who function a bit like a Greek chorus for audience’s own reactions to Steadman’s ontological leg-humping. For some reason the Stealer’s Wheel line about “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” comes to mind at least once each time I get up close with Staxx’s leader, often when I’ve been gently cajoled into joining him in, say, grinding my pelvis onstage after confirming that Jelly Roll Morton did in fact run a stable full of bitches as a his “day job” (a long, ugly jazz musician tradition).
The mixture of mirth and music is intoxicating, so my friend’s reaction to seeing them for the first time at this show – a dream unfolding – makes perfect sense. There’s something not of this world to the Staxx Brothers. Yet their memorable tales are also utterly marbled through with all the darkness and light of this life. It’s a realm one wants to touch almost immediately when they start in, so no wonder that members of P-Funk and Bay Area hip-hop legend Radioactive got into the mix during this two-night Boom Boom run.
This group is so engaged with, well, EVERYTHING that it makes one feel connected and switched-on. It’s a beautiful feeling and kinda startling how they engender it at every show. They have a drive in them that glows so bright & hot you can see it from a block away when they perform. As they continue to tighten up their game – all of the new songs from the forthcoming third album are fab and show real growth – their music should continue to sweep up new converts. In the meantime, those of us already entrenched in the congregation have the distinct, lingering pleasure of seeing them in a cherry environment like the Boom Boom until their spaceship finally arrives and they gravitate to bigger stages and freakier throngs.