In the late 1960s, Rahsaan Roland Kirk frequently began his concerts by saying, “This ain’t no sideshow!” It’s understandable how one might mistake some elements of the proceedings as being for pure show, acts of provocation designed to stir things up for the sake of it, but the method behind Kirk’s sometimes-seeming-madness are evident in music that fearlessly and sweepingly grabbed pop and high culture and made them bump uglies. Nothing was off limits for Kirk, and music thrives in such freedom forward settings. One of Kirk’s clearest modern descendents is Marco Benevento, who exercises the same thoughtful lack of restraint, the same tongue-out, matted hair embrace of chaos and humor, and the same skills to pay the bills. Don’t believe us? Well, take a look at this freshly captured video from our undying pal Jake Krolick from this past Saturday at The Blockley in Philadelphia and see if you don’t think Marco is vibing on the same frequency as the great Rahsaan. We’ve even included a classic clip from Kirk to aid in your comparison.
Face it, the folks behind the scenes never get the same attention, fan love, etc. as the people onstage windmilling guitars and bashing a drum kit to cinders. But it doesn’t mean the busy operators in the shadows are any less essential to the overall enterprise, and that’s abundantly clear in the case of Umphrey’s McGee Lighting Designer/Director Jefferson Waful, whose nimble fingered poetry is a key part of the dextrous muscle that makes Umph really leap and soar in concert. The Impound finds Waful’s skillz pretty devastating in the best ways, an experience that writes emotions and ideas in impermanent waves. So, we offer the Free Bird spotlight to one of our favorite wizards behind the curtain in a shot courtesy of great DI chum Chad Smith.
The Impound is fully willing to admit when we’ve made a mistake. It’s one of many ways in which we differ from most politicians these days…but we digress. So, repeated spins and closer inspection in 2012 have revealed that we left a couple great albums off of our 20 Favorite Albums of 2011 list. One gem we failed to include was Rich Robinson’s excellent, personal solo effort Through A Crooked Sun, and the other is Clava, the latest offering from Chicago’s The Steepwater Band. While the boys already had a pretty stellar and remarkably consistent output in their preceding 13 years, Clava represents a group with all the fundamentals in place backed by grab-ya-by-the-ears (and other thangs) gutbucket playing that creates something so very rightly rock ‘n’ roll. The Steepwater guys pull off that marvelous move of taking all the stuff we already know about good rock and invigorating it in ways that make it pulse and caper as if it were young again.
Their new video emphasizes all these points and one other we’ve made for a long time about this band – The Steepwater Band looks just like an archetypal rock gang should. Scoff if you want about this last observation and then take a little trip through the mythology hiding behind your eyelids – Robert Plant strutting mic in flagranti, the battered, hairy toughness of Ronnie Van Zandt and the original Skynyrd lineup, the late millennial velvet charm of early Black Crowes, Janis swigging booze and lookin’ three sheets to the wind, and on and on and on. The visual and the musical are enthusiastic bedfellows in rock, and when they have chemistry – as they most certainly do with Steepwater – it’s just streetwise divine. The tune here is kick-ass too, and really if you’re just getting hip to this group you’ll do yourself a favor if you explore their full back catalogue. And if anyone has an “in” with the music director on Sons of Anarchy, this is THE perfect house band for the MC (and a wonderful tonic for the lackluster song choices on what is otherwise a fantastic sleaze melodrama feast). Put in a word for ‘em, pretty please, so they get the big, boisterous fan base they so richly deserve as they continue to fight the good fight in the clubland trenches.
Modern rock is getting good in San Francisco these days. With the rise of Big Light, The New Up, Sean Leahy Trio, Blisses B and a handful of others, there’s a nostalgia free but classically informed rock movement afoot, where the skill level is way beyond what we’re hearing in most Pitchfork/blog approved buzz bands, not to mention a real sense of hooks and groin level fun that’s missing from a lot of contemporaries. Add Animal Party, the stomping good new band helmed by DI fave Kiyoshi Foster. Their debut video, a taste of their forthcoming full-length album, has the hard lovin’ flavor of fellow Californians Rival Sons – and around DI we can’t give a much bigger compliment these days. Besides Foster on lead vocals and guitar, the Party features Evan Bautista (drums) and Mark Calderon (bass), and this track features lead guitar from Sean Leahy (not featured in video). This bodes well for the full album, and the video makes these guys look legitimately cool (and DI knows these cats and they aren’t usually this cool, so hats off to director Nick Testa). You can catch Animal Party live next week on Friday, October 12, at the Connecticut Yankee in San Francisco.
Marillion’s new album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, will be released in the U.S. on October 2, and is available directly from the band here.
Music undoes the lie of the Tower of Babel. We might not all speak the same tongue but there are languages that transcend grammar, syntax and colloquialisms. Just witness what happens when English speaking bands perform to throngs in Japan or Brazil, where a portion of what’s being said is fully comprehended but the impact – emotionally and experientially – lacks for nothing. Communication is obviously taking place but on a plain far from dictionaries. Steve Rothery plays in this place beyond words, a guitarist for whom descriptors like “eloquent” and “feeling-filled” were created.
Since the early 80s, the Marillion co-founder has etched his unique signature in rock’s big book, a voice as distinctive and difficult to duplicate as clear touchstones David Gilmour, Steve Howe and Mike Oldfield. While there is great intelligence and skill to Rothery’s work, what slices one to the core is the emotional verisimilitude of his guitar voice, a choice of notes and textures that translates emotional truth into sound, be it the longing of a lost love lament or the angry growl of righteous upset. Rothery plays to the song, rarely using the often elongated platforms in the Marillion catalog to showboat, nearly always a model of economy and pinpoint expression.
Few six-string wranglers can lay claim to such an unbroken chain of quality performances, especially given his continued evolution (to wit the Guernica-esque rawness and noise he exhibits on Sounds That Can’t Be Made opener “Gaza”). More than any single piece or even grand extended opuses like Brave, the take away from Rothery’s rich career is a musician of enormous honesty, craftsmanship, and above all, pleasure triggering style.
Here’s what Rothery had to say in DI’s ongoing survey of guitarists.
No, not a troop dedicated to the old McDonald’s mascot, Grimace Federation is a thickly muscled instrumental trio whose sound reminds Dirty Impound of much missed Om Trio mingled with the heavier snarl of Pelican and the prog stomp of early Rush. In short, you can nod your head to it but tune in even a little to the musicianship and melody on display and you’re likely to be impressed. Jake Krolick, who brings us this highlight reel from the band’s recent residency at Philadelphia’s Kung-Fu Necktie, says, ” I really enjoyed the all-over-the-map vibe these guys pushed out to the crowd, not afraid to pull from a multitude of genres.” Well put. As with most artists Krolick brings to the Impound table, we know already we need to dig in further with Grimace Federation.
Musicians who inhabit diverse skins – as comfortable in stripes as they are in spots – are frequently described as “chameleon-like,” which presumes they’re taking on the form(s) of others, a skillful sort of mimicry or approximation but something lacking in individual identity. While Marco Benevento seems to adapt to nearly any setting or style with duck-to-water aplomb, there’s never a sense he’s trying to mold himself in anyone else’s image. With Benevento one simply can’t do the usual critic equation of combining touchstones with qualifying adjectives. That sort of thinking just doesn’t add up with Marco who seemed quite alien – in the most beautiful, oh-shit-this-is-First-Contact way – from the moment he emerged to national (if underground for a period) consciousness with his buddy Joe Russo [see his drummer questionnaire here] in the early 2000s.
More simply, Marco is a singularity. Yes, there are tasty bits of great keyboardists past afloat in his sound stew – James Booker’s beatifically irregular New Orleans bounce, the cosmic drift and adamant modernity of Lonnie Liston Smith and Headhunter-era Herbie Hancock (with a dollop of Herbie’s In A Silent Way poetry), a Krautrock-ish groove sensibility that would fit in great with prime Can or Faust, a splash of Glen Gould-y classical know-how, the storytelling directness of The Band’s Richard Manuel – but one is hard pressed to discern fingerprints or clear lines in his ancestry. Free of genre restrictions or hero worshipping orthodoxy, Benevento has emerged as one of the most original keyboard voices in the past few decades.
His game-for-anything attitude is on happy display throughout Benevento’s new album, TigerFace (released September 11 by The Royal Potato Family), a journey – smooth and sumptuous – where one wonders from chapter to chapter, “Well, how did I get here, especially given where I last found my steps?” In visceral terms, TigerFace feels like a wonderful brain massage, where synapses attach to fragrant bubbles, which burst and drop them into yet more effervescence for the imagination. Largely instrumental (as is usually the case with Benevento), this set opens with a pair of collaborations with Rubblebucket lead singer Kalmia Traver, where the singer soars at her elemental, primal best – a sound of pure, finger snapping sensuality awash in music that only adds to the natural lift and shimmy of her gifts. Later, Benevento continues his work bringing boogie woogie into the 21st century on “Do What She Told You” and “Escape Horse,” which offer earthy, knee bouncin’ counterpoint to the spaciousness of pieces like “Soma” and “Fireworks.” Other coconspirators on this album include bassists Reed Mathis, Dave Dreiwitz and Phish’s Mike Gordon, drummers Andrew Barr and Matt Chamberlain, as well as saxophonist Stuart Bogie and violinist Ali Helnwein – another always promising thing about Benevento is the company he keeps. Like its creator, TigerFace is unique, a wide horizon filled with joy, light, and colorful things to rest one’s attentions upon.
The TigerFace tour began this past week and continues well into the fall. For full itinerary pop over here.
Here’s what Marco had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.
In this edition: Bob Mould, The Darkness, Goodnight Texas, Delicate Cutters, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Bob Dylan, Willis Earl Beal, Bill Fay and Richard Hawley.