Jim's Big Ego
The Slip fell into the same trap most jam bands do. There were plenty of wincing and knowing nods. But whatever the band was up to, it didn't let the audience in on the secret. Playing that same impenetrable, soupy music, the Slip often held little regard for shape, paid only occasional attention to texture (when it did, it was usually a sign that the song was either on its way in or on its way out), and focused on steady streams of notes and a perpetual-motion drummer.
To its credit, the Slip showed an edgier, rougher sound in comparison to the one on its latest recording, From the Gecko. Barely discernible was the somnambulistic, Latin-tinged jam Muzak of the album. In place, a more furious, if still leveled-out sound. Shards of bebop and the occasional care the band members took to locate a melodic line gives them points.
Brad Barr's occasional guitar work made listening to the Slip worthwhile. Barr set aside the typically frenetic jam-band pacing and carved out some arrestingly beautiful, earthy melodic lines, most apparent on the "The Highlands." His sound at such times bordered almost on country, as if he's been listening to Bill Frisell's jazz-informed country albums. His focus on the melodic invention rather than the constant jam was refreshing and, on more than one occasion, breathtaking.
Unfortunately, while Barr was at his best, fellow musicians Mark Friedman on fretless electric bass and Andrew Barr on drums pummeled away with little of the delicacy their guitarist exhibited. This business, and not Barr's excursions, defined the Slip's sound.
The inflated head of Big Jim's Ego completed the Boston band doubleheader. The band combines simple pop rock with the heavy, heavy bass of Soul Coughing and the quasi stream-of-conscious, culture-criticizing drone of David Byrne during his days with the Talking Heads. The band touches on some of the song silliness and catchy melodies of They Might Be Giants without the genre-crossing exploits.
The band hinges on the singing and songwriting of Jim Infantino, the shaved-headed one. The man seems to be grooming himself as the voice of twilight Gen Xers; he affects an ironic posture and populates his songs with things beloved and familiar: chinos, mom and dad, retro-cool, TV, and espressos. More often than not, however, Jim's lyrics come across as pretentious, repetitive, and overly self-conscious, and his voice, with its limited range and cartoonish delivery, is off-putting, not ingratiating.
On Jim's big recordings, there's no escaping his voice/lyrics, but in concert, the sound balance favored the band, letting unpretentious pop songs--big bass, sunny drums, etc.--sing out on their own. Not bad at all.
The night straddled the fine line between accomplished pop and the kind of music your drunk friends make up on the spot for fun. Can be funny and entertaining, but wears thin.
Phantasy Nite Club
Anti-Flag delivered a charged hour-plus set of East Coast political punk as a near-capacity crowd bodysurfed and basically ignored the "no moshing" sign posted on the door at the Phantasy Nite Club. Backstage, Anti-Flag lead vocalist/guitarist Justin Sane talked up his band's "new" unity vibe. But when the band launched into its opener, the insanity of the mosh pit tipped the scales slightly in favor of chaos. Anti-Flag powered through crowd faves like "Indie Sux" and the anthemic "Die for Your Government," as a phalanx of defiant fist-pumping guys shouted along at the front of the stage. Some even jumped on stage to add their own flavor. In the middle of "Indie Sux," Sane stopped and asked, "Does anybody want to tell a story?" One guy explained how his girlfriend cheated on him: "The worst part was this guy listened to Master P." Ouch.
Sane, drummer Pat Thetic, and bassist Jaimee Cock rolled through a blistering cover of the Clash's "White Riot" and original lockstep numbers like "Drink, Drank, Punk." Keeping with their anti-violence theme, Sane thanked the crowd for "taking care of each other" in the pit. Make no mistake, this was no love-in. Anti-Flag drove home the message of fighting the common enemy (choose: the wealthy, government, rock poseurs, etc.) with slashing guitar riffs played at maximum volume. With the Stars and Stripes draped upside down behind him, Sane pronounced, "I don't care if you believe in the system. I don't care if you want to burn the flag. It's important we all stick together."
Thankfully, the band held one of its less desirable qualities--its penchant for affecting pseudo-Brit accents--to a minimum. Sane also addressed the band's oft-criticized song titles. Before "Fuck Police Brutality," Sane said, "I know it's cliche, but until cops quit fucking with us, we're gonna keep writing songs like this!" Anti-Flag wrapped up with "Kill the Rich," which Sane described as a "misunderstood song about not dying for the rich man." Loud and raucous, Anti-Flag was a taste of vintage 1977-era punk rock.
Before the Flagmen, Counter Clockweyes played a hard-hittin' half-hour set. The hardcore/punk outfit from Athens showed up with the energy and tight chops--if not the Mohawks--to match Anti-Flag, complete with gravelly voiced lyrics backed by the heavy sound of the lead guitarist's Gibson.
Moving a notch down to AA ball, local act the Signoffs filled in adequately for the Penfolds, who showed up but decided not to play. The highlight of their unpolished set of speed metal and punk was a request: a punked-up version of "Johnny B. Good."
It's always great to see young guitarists emerging on the blues scene, poised to become the next heroes of a genre that has long held a special place for the inspired axe handler.
But it's also a treat to watch a longtime master at work. Son Seals gave a full house at Wilbert's another look at what brilliance tempered by experience can produce. Seals has 26 years of record-making under his belt, and age has done little to diminish his skills on the guitar. On the contrary, he seems more polished every time he takes his business on the road.
And it's better displayed, as well. Seals's records add brass and saxophones that are quite unnecessary for a guitarist of such stature. Piling on the instrumentation to Seals's guitar work is like garnishing a strip steak with knockwurst. In concert, where he can't afford such frills, his guitar attack can be better appreciated.
Seals was joined by second guitarist Mike Gibb, leader of Chicago-based Mike Gibb and the Homewreckers. Gibb is a fine guitarist in his own right and, when combined with Seals, produced a terrific one-two punch.
Gibb and the other band members--Mike Scharf on bass, Glen Wierzbicki on drums, and Wally Walroth on organ and occasional sax--opened with the seventy-year-old "Gambler's Blues" before Seals took the stage to run through flawless renditions of B.B. King's "Every Day I Have the Blues" and Elmore James's "The Sky Is Crying" before tackling his own "Don't You Lie to Me," "As Years Go Passing By," "Call My Job," and "Mother-in-Law Blues" to complete the first set.
The second set was a bit more ragged, as Seals and Gibb turned up the juice for songs like "Sitting and Thinking," "Trouble, Trouble," and "On My Knees." Seals's vocals, not particularly coherent under the best conditions, were barely audible with the guitars blazing away. The fans didn't seem to care, as Seals and his group had them in a trance by the time "Your Love Is Like a Cancer" rolled around.
Seals burst on the scene at a time when the blues was at an ebb in popularity. Had he been born a little sooner or a lot later, he'd be getting the adulation from all corners of the music world. Seeing him perform live is a joy no blues lovers should deny themselves.