Music » This Little Underground




Now, funk’s not exactly my thing – which is weird, I know, since I’m pretty much the funkiest mofo in town. In practice, it’s a notion that excites me about as much British cuisine. It’s not that anything’s intrinsically wrong with the genre – actually, I’m all for the concept – it’s just that it’s a style overrun and cheapened by limp practitioners. That said, this week’s path would seem like a cruel joke at my expense. At least on paper.

The beat

The opening dose of funk came courtesy of Brown Note Jan. 8 at Taste. The dormant funk-rock band came together to play the latest in a chain of Brian Maguire benefits. Remember what I just said about funk being the playground of lesser talents? Well, not these local hotdoggers. They’re the real deal and could shame many of the more famous funk jam bands. Their technicality was not only watertight, it was intimidating. And for the heat he brought to the stage, the guitar display of the week goes to lead shredder Roland Simmons; a truly rousing performance.

The second shot was New Orleans jazz-funk band Galactic at House of Blues Jan. 11, who were resoundingly solid though more square and less interesting than their electronically adventurous recordings. But at least smart alt-rap hero Mr. Lif livened up their sound before I left.

My third and final dram of funk for the week was fellow New Orleans act Bonerama Jan. 12 at the new B.B. King’s Blues Club. Though they sport the awesomest name ever, my reaction to their balls of jazz, funk (their ... junk, if you will) and rock wasn’t quite commensurate – perhaps a chubby, but that’s about it. With a brass section five strong (four trombones and a tuba), watching them play is sort of like death by horns. I’m not saying they were bad, you just gotta be waaay into horns to flip for ’em. Still, they were fine for what they were, but the trombone jamming sometimes yielded sonic formlessness, a symptom not uncharacteristic of New Orleans brass bands.

All right, enough with the funk already and on to another style equally dear to my heart: the acoustic singer/songwriter. See above, re: limp. Ditto with acoustic artists. Local musician Chris Burns is one such creature and all that his chosen genre implies. Howeverrr, he’s got one big hook that differentiates him from the beige riffraff. At Tanqueray’s Jan. 9, he took a page out of Keller Williams’ book and expanded the concept of the solo musician by building his songs with overlapping loops created on the spot. Beyond just guitar loops, this dude uses his strings to make beats and DJ scratches. Utilizing his considerable resourcefulness still more, Burns employs his mouth for beatboxing and trumpet sounds. The songwriting’s boilerplate, but his layered approach is a notable improvement on an anemic genre.

The next night at House of Blues began with Louis XIV. From the shameless way that singer Jason Hill totally cops the instantly identifiable vocal delivery of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith to their clumsily obvious sexuality, there’s definitely something hateable about this band. But live, I didn’t hate ’em … exactly. They were more rock & roll in person, with their wanky brand of glam toned down.

As for Hot Hot Heat, well, who fucking cares anymore? Not me, and not most of the fair-weather kids who filled Hard Rock Live for their MTV taping a few short years ago, that’s for sure. This set, with its astounding lack of substance, only confirmed the feeling of intense indifference they’ve evoked from me for a while now. Die already.

Onward to the U.K.’s Editors, who anchored the bill. Yes, they’re still following more or less in the footsteps of Interpol and, yes, they’re still a diet version. But they are becoming significantly better songwriters and they are still commanding live, as this performance reaffirmed. Then again, that’s exactly how Interpol outran the looming Joy Division comparisons that haunted them.

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