Extra Action Marching Band
10:15 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Friday-Sunday, Oct. 24-26
Parade on festival grounds New Orleanians are hardly strangers to bohemian marching bands: We've had a decade or more to enjoy the strange wonder of Mr. Quintron's Ninth Ward Marching Band, comprised of hipster musicians and high-school band alums in uniform and lockstep, and a few years with the klaxon clang of the musically dubious Bingo! offshoot the Noisician Coalition to boot. Not to mention the fact that even post-K, New Orleans' schools consistently turn out the most kick-butt, spit-shined, hardest-working high school marching bands in the business. After all, they're the soundtrack to Mardi Gras.
The San Francisco-based alternative marching band Extra Action, which is unlikely to be marching with Proteus anytime soon, bring exactly that and a rollicking, explosive, sweaty combination of guerrilla theater and dance. The band was started about a decade ago by members of the slightly frightening experimental percussion/performance-art collective Crash Worship. Extra Action's shows and marches have a great deal of Crash Worship's anarchic energy, though less, happily, of the danger (there was a lot of fire). The band has opened for David Byrne, re-created Black Sabbath's first album in messy brass, and played the Hollywood Bowl, sometimes with boys and girls wearing only spangly unmentionables. The way the group manages to energize a punk-rock crowd really makes you wonder; look how well the militaristic rallying power of sousaphone and trumpet can call anarchists to arms. It's true that alt-brass ensembles with punk attitudes playing metal covers are not quite revolutionary here, but we're probably the first city it has played that's home to so many kindred spirits who will know exactly how to hoot, holler and stay out of the way when Extra Action goes rampaging through the Voodoo grounds on parade. Alison Fensterstock
2:45 p.m,-3:35 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24,
Stage The retro-soul revival may be achieving critical mass. It seems like every time you turn around, there's another band bringing twisting, shouting horns and beg, scream and pray vocals straight out of Hitsville, Soulsville and many points in-between. From James Hunter to Amy Winehouse to Duffy, artists are pulling the sweat, holler, spit and polish out of the dusty old record cabinets to Continental-walk back in time, making 2008 sound like 1966.
The Voodoo roster has its share of revivalists, too. But there's one band of Motor City menaces on the bill, formed a stone's throw from Berry Gordy's old HQ, that pulls from the soul tradition with a vengeance and without a sharkskin suit or beehive hairdo in sight. Duck and cover, it's the Dirtbombs, who come from Detroit with as much Stooges and MC5 in their clip as Motown.
The Dirtbombs grew out of Detroit's late-'90s blues-punk explosion (Like a little brother-sister duo you may have heard of at the turn of this century, the Dirtbombs put out a split single with the nascent White Stripes. They also backed up Detroit raunch king Andre Williams on his Black Godfather album.). The band formed partly out of the ashes of frontman Mick Collins' seminal garage-rock trio the Gories, which featured New Orleanian Peggy O'Neill on drums. Like its contemporaries, Memphis' Oblivians, the Gories funneled the formidable blues and soul heritage of its hometown through the angry, urgent punk rock the members had grown up with in the "80s, making for a particularly nasty, rough and infectious hybrid all of "60s soul's hot, immediate energy without its finesse.
Though Detroit soul and garage grit are its benchmarks, the Dirtbombs switched it up quite a bit in 13 years. Its most well-known albums are probably Ultraglide in Black (2001), a collection of mostly soul covers utterly unleashed (a furious take of Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City" is a highlight) and the poppier Dangerous Magical Noise (2003). After Noise, the band took a break, and has put out a two-CD set of rarities and singles, and this year's We Have You Surrounded. On the new album, the band features heavy experimentation with studio tricks, broad conceptualism (one track is based on a story by reclusive comic-book weirdo Alan Moore), layered sound, and singing in French (the band is on tour with TV on the Radio "maybe that has something to do with it). Fensterstock
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
6:15 p.m.-7:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Stage Photo by Johnny Buzzerio Grace Potter sounds like she's in a good mood. She is speaking from a van in which she and her band, the Nocturnals, are driving to Philadelphia from Northampton, Mass., where the previous night they played a gig that included friends and fellow road warriors Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit and Andrew Bird.
'When I'm on the road, I really enjoy it," she says. "Being stagnant always freaks me out so I like going somewhere."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are definitely going somewhere. They are currently on a 50-date tour that will take them across the country. Their latest record This Is Somewhere is an old school rock "n' roll record that flows and crests like a 1970s long player with steady backbeat drums, occasional screaming guitar and punchy organ fills. Potter's voice combines the mystery of Stevie Nicks, the defiance of Lucinda Williams and the easy flow of Bonnie Raitt. Despite being flattered by these comparisons, Potter doesn't pattern her singing after anyone.
'Someone asked me what my favorite Janis Joplin song was, and I couldn't tell them," she says. "I'm not trying to sound like anyone. It's important to embody your own thing, even if it's on a cover song. Having said that, I do a great Mick Jagger imitation. I have that chicken dance down good."
Potter has been trying to embody her own thing since age 4, when she first sang a harmony line to a Pointer Sisters song on the radio. She grew up with musicians for parents in the rural town of Waitsfield, Vt., ('No traffic lights and more dirt than paved roads," she says.) and she went through many instruments before she settled on keyboards. Together with drummer Matt Burr, she founded the band while studying at St. Lawrence University. They recorded two albums, Original Soul and Nothing But the Water, and then hit the road for several years.
This Is Somewhere is the group's third album, and it has the internal logic that albums, rather than collections of singles, have. Potter wrote all the tunes with that cohesion in mind. "When I'm writing, I'm usually writing with a body of work in mind, a collection," she says. "An album is important. I want to sit down and listen to an album from beginning to end. I love that about certain records like Dylan's Desire and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. The songs tie in together and sound almost like they are all written in one sitting."
Potter and the Nocturnals hit Voodoo in the middle of the tour. "The road becomes your life," Potter says, laughing. "There is something that feels good and feels like home onstage. And getting paid for something I love is a bonus." David Kunian
6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Stage Judging an artist by her videos is a half-measure at best, but those interested in a concise summation of Erykah Badu's decade-plus career should catch the clip for her single "Honey" off her new record, New Amerykah. In it, Badu enters a record store and flips through the racks, selecting LPs that bear striking resemblance to classic records. The trick is that each cover Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full, De la Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and The Beatles' Let It Be, to name a few is turned into an animated tribute to the artists who influenced her, featuring Badu singing snatches of her single in drag. It's a striking and charming conceit, underscoring a theme Badu has been exploring since her first record creating vibrant and forward-looking soul music while keeping a firm grounding in the black-lit, incense-scented, nostalgia-soaked past.
Onstage, she's simultaneously commanding and humorous, projecting a sensual earthiness that recalls the anything-goes era of "70s soul, when a singer could actually roll with the punches, let the band work out a section of a song and still thrillingly pull it all together with the charisma and ease of a natural leader.
Case in point: Two months ago, during the encore to its concert in Dallas, the Kentucky-based cosmic jamband My Morning Jacket launched into a cover of Badu's "Tyrone," a smoky ballad of recrimination and sublimated lust from Badu's first record, Baduizm. So far, so good. The band had been inserting the song into its setlists recently, and it happens to be more than adept at dipping its toes into the soul pool, so irony wasn't a factor. The cover also served as a shout-out to a local luminary Badu is from Dallas and based both there and in Brooklyn the type of crowd-pleasing move that smart touring musicians pull all the time.
Melding the original's slow-burn anger with its trademark reverb-infused country psychedelia would have been sufficient, but then something really special happened: Badu herself walked in from the wings and joined the band after the first verse, and as the artists inserted themselves into each other's world, the show took off into crowd-frenzy-inducing bliss. Nothing short of transcendent, it was a vision of a brave new world where one wishes Badu and My Morning Jacket would take their genre-defying chemistry and make an entire genre-redefining record together, undoubtedly helping to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and sundry other things.
That's the type of energy Badu brings to a concert, no matter who's backing her up. She doesn't need anybody's help to burn a stage down and move a crowd. On her own, she's a completely mesmerizing performer, the type of musician that can make you believe shaking your moneymaker alongside a thousand like-minded souls is not just entertainment, but a sort of revolution, too. Gabe Soria
7:10 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Philadephia psych-rock band Man Man is famously sick of being compared to the holy trinity of Beefheart/Tom Waits/Frank Zappa. It sounds like those bands only as much as they sound like each other, but they do share a particularly adventurous spirit, and a love for the sound of complex songs carefully perched on the edge of falling apart.
Frontman and driving force Honus Honus (aka Ryan Kattner) started Man Man with the lineup that recorded The Man In A Blue Turban With A Face (2004). "But after that first record and tour, that band kinda dissolved," Honus explains. "And that was at the same time that Need New Body was imploding, so I just asked if I could hire Chris Powell to play drums on Six Demon Bag."
Former Need New Body drummer Powell known as Pow Pow within Man Man is perhaps the greatest drummer in indie rock. "When my band dissolved and I got to pick all new people to play with, I picked people whose ideas I trusted," Honus says, regarding his first band's dissolution as a blessing. "The group of people we have now are just magical. As a musician, I am pretty primitive, but they are approaching master status." It would not be hyperbole to compare Powell's frenetic style and heart to Keith Moon. Although Powell's bands generally lean more toward the experimental than the classically anthemic, he has always been free to travel further into outer space than Moon did.
Man Man's junkyard stage setup includes drums, keyboards, clavinet, euphonium, xylophone, marimba, melodica, pots, pans, toys and sometimes other items. "It actually only takes us about 10 minutes to set up," Honus says. "But it takes even the best soundman 40 minutes to mic it all. At one show the guy took three hours." On all this strange equipment, the band performs a giant, insane medley of Man Man material and random sounds. "The set is about an hour and it's really intense, full on," Honus says. "Before we go on tour we build this torso of a medley, then it's like a giant Mr. Potato Head body where we can switch out some parts. Of course, certain parts can only work with certain parts. But even when we play similar sets it's not easy to do.
'There's also a lot of sincerity," Honus adds. "Because kids can tell when you're just lining up parts on index cards, like, "Lets take this style and juxtapose it with this style, with lyrics about a heart!' It's just not that easy."
In its second incarnation, Man Man has gained a healthy following, partly due to a long jaunt opening for Modest Mouse, a song in a Nike commercial, another on the HBO show Weeds, and freaked-out live sets at many high-profile festivals. "I do like festivals," Honus says. "Because there are people there who want to see you, and also people who don't want to see you but they're stuck. Then there are people who walk by and their little kids are confused but they want to stay, while their parents are totally offended. That's been our experience." Michael Patick Welch
8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Stage Call it gypsy rock, call it klezmer roll, call it Djangocore whatever label you want to use, it's one of the most unlikely-yet-welcome genre developments in popular music in the last decade. Bands across the United States and Europe have been looking East and South for inspiration, adding touches of Slavic and Mexican brass, Romany strings and a grab-bag of earthy sounds to their repertoires, creating an intoxicating sonic fusion that plays like Eastern European sci-fi folk music. DeVotchKa named for a pidgin Russian slang term for "little girl" coined by Anthony Burgess in his novel A Clockwork Orange is one of the leading forces of this loosely defined movement.
'I think people are becoming tired of overproduced, pitch-perfect, digitally antiseptic music in general," says Tom Hagerman, DeVotchKa's violin, accordion and piano player. "There always seems to be a reversal of trends in music. I think coming out of the disco of the "70s, the synthesizer era of the "80s, the guitar-driven rock of the "90s, this decade seems to see a lot of roots music coming back. I wouldn't really consider us "roots' music in the usual sense, but when you play the accordion or tuba your only real musical influences for those instruments are people that died a long time ago."
Devotchka got a little exposure when it served as the backup band for retro burlesque performances. Setting its sights beyond the horizons of the bump and grind, the band started touring relentlessly, performing with the likes of Marilyn Manson and fellow gypsy-rock travelers Gogol Bordello, gaining a reputation for putting on visually and sonically distinctive shows fraught with dark romanticism. But it was contributions to the score of 2006's indie sleeper hit Little Miss Sunshine that finally began to attract notice for the band beyond the underground, capturing a Grammy nomination and a record deal with Los Angeles-based Anti- Records, slotting it comfortably with labelmates Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Tom Waits.
DeVotchKa is touring in support of its Anti- debut, A Mad & Faithful Telling. The record feels perfectly suited to the nation's current mood of pre-apocalyptic Weimar uncertainty. It's a red wine-and-whiskey, party-in-a-cabaret, tango-til-you're-sore record that manages to convey grand gestures and moody brilliance in equal doses. Hagerman promises (perhaps with tongue planted firmly in cheek) DeVotchKa's set in the Bingo! Parlour will include "midgets, clowns and flames."
But what about the band's downtime? Surely, it can't be all circus excess all the time. In its first trip to New Orleans post-Katrina, Hagerman expects to be a bit of a tourist. He's looking forward to: "Eating a catfish po-boy and getting heckled by children tap dancing when you don't give them any money." Soria
8:50 p.m.-10:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Photo by Sam Hildon One half of the Gutter Twins, former Afghan Whig and current Twilight Singer, Greg Dulli, is one of New Orleans' many internationally famous rock star imports. Dulli lives here only a portion of the year, but he's easy to spot in his rockstar-forever uniform: all black, including sunglasses and long pants, even in the summertime (the season in which he prefers to occupy his Marigny home). Shout his name on the street and, whether or not he recognizes you, he'll likely walk over with a big smile: "Hey guys, what's shakin?" Dulli also recently bought the R Bar, so he will crash here for an extended period after this tour.
The other half of the Gutter Twins duet is singer Mark Lanegan, who was first known for fronting grunge pioneers The Screaming Trees, and more recently as a touring singer with Queens of the Stoneage. His voice is husky and smoky like Dulli's, but more fluid, especially considering Dulli's lost a small but obvious part of his range after so many years of unrepentant smoking and screaming. The band also is about to finish its 85-show debut tour. "Having a singing partner now is great," Dulli says. "Performing-wise, when you're singing, your voice doesn't get all ragged out. Lanegan likes it a little more mellow though," Dulli confesses. "'Cause he's an old man. I like it more driving. We meet in the middle. It's the volume thing that turns him off, I think, but I love it, man. I don't wear earplugs either, I don't have hearing damage, and I don't ask why."
The Gutter Twins' debut, Saturnalia, is Dulli's mellowest, most sensual record since the Twilight Singers' debut (both records were recorded partly in New Orleans). "Our show is not acoustic though," Dulli says. "It's pretty rockin'. The quieter stuff on the record is performed with two guys on keyboards, some slide guitar electric but a little more subdued. And that's usually Lanegan singing lead on that. Though he also sings lead on the loudest song we have."
How do the Twins share the spotlight? "I love writing songs for Mark to sing," Dulli gushes. "Because I love writing for his voice, which is one of my favorites of all time. But this experience has made me a better harmonizer, because Lanegan doesn't do harmonies, Lanegan only does Lanegan. Any harmonies on that album are me, my friend. And I didn't mean to call you "my friend' like John McCain."
Locals may recognize the city in the Gutter Twins' video for "All Misery" (directed by Rio Hackford, co-owner of One Eyed Jacks) and can look forward to some New Orleans surprises at the Gutter Twins' quasi-homecoming Voodoo set. "When we played One Eyed Jacks last time, we learned "St. James Infirmary' the night before," Dulli says. "So we'll tip our hats to New Orleans at Voodoo somehow," he says. "We always do." Welch
Saturday October 25
3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25
photo by Lisa Johnson In the mid-'90s, Dallas' Old 97's were tops in the alt-country boom, mixing snide punk attitude with sped-up twang and cutting, well-crafted turns of phrase. Frontman Rhett Miller's voice think Wilco's Jeff Tweedy singing a half a register lower and a hell of a lot more bitter twists literate, succinct lyrics like the jagged edge of a broken Lone Star bottle. Cofounder Murry Hammond's twangy lead guitar propels the punked-out Western swing-meets-power-pop sound forward like a wild horse possibly a drunk horse.
Appropriately, the Old 97's began as a Texas bar band, but was quickly signed to the seminal alt-country label Bloodshot and released Wreck Your Life (1994), which still stands as one of its finest efforts. Its pop sensibility, driven particularly by Miller's boyish vocals, garnered the group some of the widest appeal of all the bands being lumped into the burgeoning alt-country genre. Though it never really managed mainstream success or the cult superstardom of contemporaries like Wilco, it continues to stand as one of the best examples of the talent, smart songwriting and individuality that was nurtured by the "90s indie-label explosion.
Miller claims the minimalist fiction writer Raymond Carver as a major influence, and his turns of phrase are deft, damaged and bitterly sweet enough to bear that out as true. Fortuantely, a happy marriage and a couple of successful solo albums haven't blunted his edge. In 2008, the Old 97's proved sturdy, and released Blame It On Gravity, a beery joyride laced with all the bite, wistfulness and alt-dot-honky-tonk that fans have been drinking to for nearly 15 years. Fensterstock
6:15 p.m.-7:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25
New Orleans has heard a lot of funk, but currently, there is no funkier band on the plant than Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk.
The five musicians in the band play so dirty that it feels like you fell into the trash receptacle from which the band takes its name. Drummer Raymond Weber throws down a beat and then contorts it as Nick Daniels' and Tony Hall's harmonies and bass notes lay down ferocious patterns around each other but don't compete in a way that would muddy the sound. Ian Neville's steady, chunky guitar solidifies that rhythmic base while Ivan Neville's organ and raspy, commanding vocals dart and weave over the top. On songs like "Living In A World Gone Mad" and "Soul Power," it is impossible for an audience to stand still. This band gets rolling on a juggernaut of funk that flattens listeners into jelly "cause jam don't shake like that.
The band's groove is a unique monster. It's not the minimalist funk of the Meters, though the band can lock in like that quartet. It's not the relentless funk of James Brown, but it has that rhythmic drive. It's not the psychedelic, over-the-top circus of Parliament-Funkadelic, but it often has that political slant. And it's not the party funk of the Ohio Players, but it shares the high vocals that take the pressure off the bottom. Dumpstaphunk is its own school of funk.
If you're under 35, you may think you have heard funk, but you haven't. You missed the original Meters, James Brown when he wasn't a parody, Parliament-Funkadelic when the acid was great, Sly and the Family Stone before the cocaine, and Booker T. and the M.G.s before the demise of Stax. Dumpstaphunk is as good as all that, and it's in its prime now. So go buy an extra pair of clean underwear, head over to the Dumpstaphunk and dive in. Kunian
Shudder to Think
8:15 p.m.-9:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25
Shudder to Think was the first "artsy" band signed to Dischord Records, a label then known for releasing albums by Minor Threat and other D.C. hardcore groups. The band's avant pop could be described as a feminine Fugazi. Or perhaps, math rock by Roy Orbison. Either way, Shudder to Think was always awkwardly original and ahead of its time.
Opinions of the band tend to hinge on Craig Wedren's voice, which is at turns operatic, eunuch-like, sometimes objectively beautiful, always beguilingly original. "When I was 12 and in cover bands, all the early "80s singers had high voices," Wedren says. "I was singing like Ozzy Osbourne, Siouxie Sioux, Journey. Plus my bandmates' amps were so much louder than mine that I sang higher to cut through and get my melodies out there."
Wedren's image and original mathematical compositions as technically impressive as they were surprisingly groovy posed such challenges to punk rock audiences, however, that reaction was often negative. Many crowds threw things at Wedren's bald, lightbulb-like head and shouted "Faggot!"
'That was a common occurrence," sighs Wedren, who says audiences at Shudder's recent reunion shows have been nothing but loving. "We've always thrived on adversity, though," he says. "There's something innately defiant about Shudder to Think, just because it's always been so staunchly it's own style."
In the "90s the band was surprisingly swept up in the rash of major label "alternative rock" signings, which begat Shudder's glam-prog masterpiece, Pony Express Record. The record's single "X-French T-Shirt" landed Shudder on MTV, with Wedren in shiny, tight clothes like a cross between Billy Corgan and Puff Daddy. While that didn't cheapen the band, which had just made its best album, the video still wasn't entirely comfortable to watch.
Despite the brilliant originality of Pony Express, monstrous guitarist Nathan Larsen who improved the band when he replaced Shudder's original guitarist soon "got sick of doing the math," and demanded that Wedren simplify the songs.
'It broke my heart that we weren't all on the same stylistic page anymore," Wedren says. "But as a result, the next album became this very fun, growth-inspiring assignment to write something more soulful, more pop, something that would make Nathan happy and get the band back in lockstep." In the end, a third of the songs on 50,000 B.C. revisited Pony Express's complex perfection, and many others achieved simplified, Orbisonian bliss, but something was still off. The group noticed, and after some success scoring the film First Love, Last Rights, Shudder to Think finally disbanded.
Unlike the current crop of reunited "90s bands being celebrated and handsomely rewarded without pressure to record new material, the overlooked Shudder to Think has regrouped because, as Wedren says, "Our music seems much more approachable now. For the iPod generation compartments and genres and what's punk and what's indie it doesn't exist anymore. People now listen to Fugazi and Dylan and Stravinski and Johnny Cash all in 10 minutes, so they're now able to hear us without scrambling to understand and define and lump us in with other things." Welch
Nine Inch Nails
8:45 p.m.-11:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25
Photo by Tamar Levine Oh, Trent Reznor sallow-faced, stringy-haired growler whose pain-wracked, churning 1989 masterwork Pretty Hate Machine launched 10,000 trips to Hot Topic. Whose years living in Uptown New Orleans ensured a gaggle of Goths milling around on upper Magazine Street near his Nothing Studio at any given time. Whose move to California fairly close in time to former spooky neighbor Anne Rice's egress left tour guides with only architecture and rumored hauntings to point out. Who now looks weirdly like Henry Rollins in photos.
A phenomenon of the Lollapalooza era for his skillful ability to turn dark, European industrial thunk and grind into a mass-market sensation, Reznor ended his days as a local creepy-crawlie for good the year before Katrina, when he closed down the studio and the label of the same name (though fans will remember his brief return for a headlining slot at Voodoo 2005). And like lots of people who finally wrench themselves out of New Orleans after a period of creativity, fun and rampant inebriation (though Reznor is sober), he seems to have found new purpose and comfort, and is, frankly, kicking ass.
In 2007, after speaking out onstage (encouraging fans to illegally download his songs) and on his Web site against what he thought were anachronistic, self-sabotaging business practices by his label, he left Universal Music Group and went indie. Since then, he produced a minor phenom experimental-rap album, Saul Williams' The Inevitable Rise and Liberation Of Niggy Tardust, which was released digitally in a Radiohead-like pay-what-you-wish style. He also put out four Eps, Ghosts I-IV, and a full-length album, The Slip, showing his studio wizardry with a touch, just a touch, of mellowed maturity in full force. The projects have less gnash, crunch and soul-flaying and more heavy sonic textures. All five projects are available in multiple packages, from free bare-bones downloads of the individual EPs to a deluxe hard-copy CD, DVD and Blu-Ray set. Fensterstock
Sunday October 26
Eli "Paperboy" Reed And the True Loves
12:05 p.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
One of the musical lessons of recent years is that soul comes from unusual places. Take the heavy-accented Brit James Hunter, whose red-hot neo-soul is as light and fiery as spun gold. He burst onto the scene during the last three years with two slam-dunk records on the Rounder label that earned him a Grammy nomination and a collaboration with Allen Toussaint. Or Sharon Jones, a former corrections officer who emerged into a second career as a soul singer that made the Dap-Kings, the house band of a small, earnest soul revival label international stars. Or the Dap-Kings themselves, a gang of on-point soul musicians, most of whom were born after Otis Redding's plane crash and whose sizzling horns were the puzzle piece that turned Amy Winehouse into the perfect musical storm of 2007. (Or Winehouse herself, an English person with tight pants and a drug problem oh, wait, that's not an unusual formula for neo-soul.)
In any case, it looks like the newest mailing address for Soulsville is Allston, Mass., home of Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves, who got their inauspicious start busking as teens in Harvard Square, slowly working their way up to punk-rock dives. Like James Hunter, Reed's vocal and guitar style (and snappy suit) are so faithful to history it's uncanny: original tracks off his debut, Roll With You, released in April, could easily have come from a Hayes or a Porter or a Dozier or a Holland, and the band performs with the barely-controlled energy of a vintage Motown revue, sweating through their sharkskin. Though he hails from the Northeast, Reed has no Yankee reserve; the spirit is in him, and then some. During last year's South by Southwest festival, The Austin Chronicle gave him a tongue-in-cheek award for "Best Otis Redding impersonation by a 23-year-old Jewish boy from Massachusetts."
Reed's onstage intensity doesn't just come from singing along to his Stax/Volt box set in front of the mirror, either. At 18, when other young Bostonites were interning at law firms and nonprofits, Reed moved to Clarksdale, Miss., and served his own apprenticeship of sorts, spending almost a year picking up gigs around the Delta and studying informally with legendary blues drummer Sam Carr. After moving to Chicago for college (Mississippi to Chicago of course), Reed began playing piano at a South Side church run by Mitty Collier, a former Chess Records recording artist (who had also recorded with Stax legend William Bell) turned minister. Education completed, Reed returned to Boston and the band in "04. This year, they dropped Roll With You a hot collection of sides chock-full of the gospel-soul influences of the South and Chicago's electric blues on BMI Records. Reed even picked up a little something from New Orleans; the horns on the track "Take My Love With You" sound like they came right out of Cosimo Matassa's. Currently, Eli and the True Loves are on tour with Duffy, the Welsh Dusty Springfield doppelganger who is one of the latest additions to the retro-soul craze. Fensterstock
1:50 p.m.-2:50 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
Stage Photo by Lionel Deluy Lupe Fiasco is a black weirdo, and bless him for it. After all, it takes a lot of guts for a rapper especially one feted early on in his career by no less than Jay-Z, and one who's a quasi-protege of Kanye West to release an ode to skateboarding as his debut solo single.
That's what the Chicago-based artist did with 2005's "Kick Push" from his solo debut Food & Liquor. As a preemptive rebuttal to accusations of a "lack of realness" from pundits both black and white who tend to see hip-hop and to a certain extent black society as a whole as an exercise in one-dimensional themes and ideas, "Kick Push" was not only good, it was culturally right on the money. Using the Zen-like pursuit of skateboarding as a metaphor for the marginalization felt by anybody who tries to buck against a stereotype, particularly black youth, it ended up connecting with hip-hop fans and critics. It didn't change the world, set the charts on fire, or make Fiasco a million dollars, but it was a game attempt. Black kids had always skated (see Ray Barbee, the movie Kids and the streets of pretty much any city in America), and they were finally given some unambiguous props. Who knew ollies and kickflips could be gasp! political?
Reducing Fiasco to being "that guy who raps about skating" is just as unimaginative as saying rap music should only be about bitches, braggadocio and bling, and it diminishes exactly how talented and varied an MC he is. After all, a lot of self-styled conscious rappers can be as tediously simple-minded and undynamic as the mainstream they're often bucking. Fiasco is a walking, talking study in contrasts, a young black man of the new millennium. He was raised on the west side of Chicago in a neighborhood he once described to allhiphop.com as "the hoody-hood, with the prostitutes, and the drive-bys and the cocaine." A fan of comic books, Japanese animation, classical music and video games, Fiasco says he was initially turned off by hip-hop because of what he perceived as its more negative elements, citing his dad's blasting of N.W.A. in the car as "embarrassing." (Ironically, he now counts N.W.A.'s Eazy-E as an influence.)
Further exposure to the world of hip-hop outside of the cul-de-sac of gangsta rap eventually made him an ardent fan of the form, and he steeped himself in the culture, first making waves as a member of Da Pack, with whom he was briefly signed to Epic Records. But only after he went solo did he truly come into his own as an artist. Drawing on his love of pop culture, particularly the "nerdy" stuff, his devotion to hip-hop, his Muslim upbringing and his ability to recognize and resolve, somewhat, the contradictions among all of his interests, Fiasco has in the past two years become one of the most engaging and dynamic presences in the world of hip-hop. His lyrical flow is nimble and clever, his beats are solid and he's no slouch on stage, either.
Fiasco is still fighting against the notion that to truly succeed in hip-hop, one has to pander. The first single off The Cool, his follow-up to Food & Liquor, was "Dumb it Down," a pointed riposte to those who still think that, to be "real," rap music must stick to a shortlist of approved topics. A portion of the song's chorus has a black friend telling Fiasco, "You going over n****s' heads, Lu/ Dumb it down/ They tellin' me that they don't feel you, n****/ Dumb it down/ We ain't graduated from school, n****/ Dumb it down/ Those big words ain't cool, n****/ Dumb it down." It's depressing, especially when the following chorus has a white man (presumably a holier-than-thou critic or a recording industry higher-up) telling him the exact same thing in different words. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Fiasco can do nothing but give the lyrical finger to both sides of the debate and follow the courage of his convictions.
In recent interviews, Fiasco has said that he's "85 percent" sure he'll retire after his next album, but let's hope that in one respect at least, he'll stay true to a cliché of the rap game: announcing that he'll get out and then, like Jay-Z, forswear himself and come back with something stronger, fiercer and even better than before. Soria
4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
You know those bumper stickers that say "Keep Austin Weird"? For more than 20 years, the Butthole Surfers have more than kept up their share of that load. The experimental psychedelic punk sound of the Surfers owed a lot to fellow Austin weirdo Roky Erickson's twisted, fanatic garage-grind, though their music was harder to classify and ventured much farther into the outer reaches of strange. The Butthole Surfers blended together winding, psychedelic explorations with the machine-gun rattle of hardcore, avant-garde improvisation and lots of weird effects tape manipulation, scary laughter, indistinct conversation and, sometimes, what sounded like stomach problems that came together in a way that straddled the trippy "60s and the noisiness of no-wave art punk. (That name? It's a moniker they never really intended; in its early days, the band would change its name from show to show. The story goes that an emcee mistook one of their song titles for the band's name, and they decided to keep it.)
The Surfers formed a few years after Gibby Haynes met guitarist Paul Leary at Trinity College in San Antonio in the late "70s, and signed to Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label. Throughout the "80s, the band grew legendary for pushing the limits of taste performance-wise, as well as going farther and deeper into the realm of surreal, complex experimentation musically. Stage shows featured a scary naked dancer, onstage simulated (or possibly real) sex, cross-dressing, fire, projected films of graphic surgeries and nuclear explosions, and general gross-out depravity. Weirdly, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, after appearing on the first Lollapalooza tour. The band managed to get two records out on Capitol Independent Worm Saloon and Electriclarryland with their sound mostly intact, though most people agree that the Capitol efforts are the Surfers' most accessible. (Electriclarryland went gold, and both albums had songs "Pepper" and "Who Was In My Room Last Night" that made it up the charts.)
Today, the Surfers are very involved with the School of Rock, the Philadelphia-based program that teaches teenagers classic rock and punk songs. The current touring lineup appearing at Voodoo is the original quartet: Haynes, Leary and drummers King Coffey and Teresa Nervosa. Fensterstock
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
5:35 p.m.-6:35 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
Photo by Laura Hanifin In this age of electronics, sampling and effects that embody what most people think of as R&B, there are still some musicians who use real drums, real horns and real feelings. Of these groups, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are one of the best.
Fronted by vocal powerhouse Jones and led by bassist/producer Bosco "Bass" Mann, this band has a fire that few modern artists can touch. "I call this music soul/funk," Jones says. "If I call it "rhythm and blues,' that confuses people because the R&B I hear today I don't hear too much soul in it. Soul music is something that comes from the heart. You have to feel it. Soul music isn't something you learn or you practice and then you can do soul now. You have to feel that. It has to be in you."
Jones started singing as a kid in Augusta, Ga. Her first solo was as an angel in her church singing "Silent Night." After moving to New York, she juggled studio work, sang in a wedding band and did other odd jobs to pay her bills, including working as a corrections officer on Rikers Island and "carrying a .38 as a Wells Fargo security guard filling up ATMs." She also hooked up with Mann, who was producing a single for "70s soul-singer Lee Fields. "They said they needed three girls for singers," Jones says. "I said, "Why do you need three girls? I can do three-part harmonies.'" The singles, "Switchblade" and "Damn, It's Hot," also featured the Soul Providers, who later morphed into the Dap-Kings. "These guys were babies," Jones says. "The first thing I said to them was, "What do you white boys think you know about funk and soul?' I put my foot in my mouth, but I was really curious. They loved the R&B and soul sounds. They loved the J.B.'s and Otis Redding and the Stax/Motown thing. They were always listening to it. They lived and slept soul and rhythm and blues. And I went with them."
After the Soul Providers became the Dap-Kings, the band toured the United States and Europe, gaining fans at one fiery show after another. Each record, from Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings to Naturally to 100 Days, 100 Nights, sharpened their focus on soul and rhythm and blues.
Jones appreciates the opportunities she has had. "In the 1970s and "80s, they told me I didn't have a look. I was told I was too dark, too short, too fat, and after I passed 25, too old. I hung in there because it was a gift. And I'm grateful for it. I go out there and make people happy. That's what I do. It's like fishing. I hook them, and you ain't going nowhere. To be 52 years old and to be able to mesmerize these people and these young people looking at my old behind jumping around it's a gift." Kunian