Happy New Year, beauties! Is the nightmare over yet? No? Shit. OK, onward then.
ROD HAMDALLAH AND DJ MEZCALCULATION, WILL'S PUB, JAN. 5
As usual, the concert calendars went into deep freeze around the holidays. But the weather for us actually followed suit this year, resulting in the apocalypse that us Southerners call sub-40s temperatures. This bill bookended by hometown heroes the Woolly Bushmen and Tampa Bay rock & rollers Johnny Mile and the Kilometers was the first real thaw in the live action, and it kicked up enough heat to melt the glacier. While the mercury nosedived outside, the inverse happened inside.
The particularly noteworthy addition to the lineup was out-of-stater Rod Hamdallah. Although not a household name himself, the Atlanta musician is the guitarist for the Legendary Shack Shakers, one of the greatest American acts of this century. And though that's primarily due to the electricity of Southern gothic visionary J.D. Wilkes, the fact that an icon of his stature has tapped Hamdallah to ride shotgun in multiple bands (the Shack Shakers and the Dirt Daubers) is a credential to be taken seriously.
With his trio, Hamdallah finally came to take center stage himself and showcase his own material. It's an economical sound woven from the sinews of blues, punk and primal rock & roll. Through its veins courses the same kind of jacked neo-traditionalist blood that juices the Black Keys and Hanni El Khatib. With arrangements that were sturdy and lean but not basic, his band's performance was a straight and bracing shot of raw rock & roll that showed how little embellishment is needed when you do it right.
Stitching the night together with flair, however, was DJ Mezcalculation and his Atrocity Jukebox, the most distinctive DJ setup (and getup) around. No regular turntable jock, it's actually accomplished local musician and mover Jim Ivy (Obliterati, Tangled Bell Ensemble, the Delusionaires, Civic Minded 5, etc.) and probably the best DJ booth I've seen in forever. Whatever his sweet parlor setup gives up to a pair of 1200s in terms of pure action and utility, his vintage gear, case of 45s and, oh yeah, dope turban more than make up for in patina and style.
Befitting his repute for being both erudite and strange, he spun a set that was swinging, wild and weird. More than just good songs, it was true immersion. And from the looks and sounds of it, he could equally command a stag party or a sweat lodge.
SUNO DEKO, WILL'S PUB, JAN. 6
The last time I saw avant-pop act Suno Deko was a purely chance encounter almost exactly three years ago at Uncle Lou's. I came to see a weirdo local improv act (Gnutzak) but ended up captured most by Suno Deko's performance. At the time, it was the then-nascent project of Atlanta's David Courtright.
Now, he finally returns as an NYC-based artist with a new eponymous debut album that sports guests from noteworthy acts like Hundred Waters and Mutual Benefit. His music enchanted me then and did so again, this time in some different ways.
That first time, I was astonished at how complete he was as a solo loop act, juggling keyboard, drum, violin, guitar and sleigh bells to full results. This time, any consideration of gimmick or method wasn't even in play. More than anything, the primary presence now is his vocal expression. In fact, this latest performance had generally spare instrumentation: some keyboards here, an acoustic guitar there, or some accompaniment by Lush Agave's Alisha Erao.
Much of the set's arrangement, however, was as intimately direct as listening to a piano man. But because of his more cultivated voice – a thing of air and grace – it never felt austere. With singing like that in the spotlight, all else is just setting and dress.
Now operating with loftier restraint, Suno Deko is stepping into a tradition of high artistry and out onto the queer indie vanguard alongside artists like Perfume Genius. And it's with the sense that this is a blossom that's only starting to bloom.