Monday, May 01, 2006

On the streets of this town

Last weekend was one of those concentrated periods where I was able once again to marvel at the richness of the Buffalo music scene, as I have done so many times over the years.

1. Thursday night was the "Best of WNY" party held by the magazine I work for--that would be Buffalo Spree--and its first full-fledged best-of issue. There were about 600 people on hand, among them many folks I've known for years, and lots of excellent food, but for me the highlight of the evening was the performance by my old friend Heather Connor and the latest incarnation of her ever-evolving band, playing samba and bossa classics:

2. Saturday night, Drums & Tuba played the Icon, a club that was a major venue more than a decade ago, then fell into major decline, closed and reopened many times, and is now back as ... a fucking pit. It's so completely unappealing now that I almost turned around and left. Fortunately, I toughed it out, which means that I got to enjoy one of the opening acts, The Frame Up. I'd heard good things about them, but hadn't seen or heard them and had no good sense of what they sounded like.

Now I do: hard rock/early metal, circa 1969-74 or so, kinda early Black Sabbath (minus the devil) and early Grand Funk (minus the swagger) and any number of other pre-punk loud rock bands. I realize this stuff is back in a big way with The Kids Today (see: Wolfmother, the Darkness, etc., etc.), but it still takes some getting used to. As a first-generation punk rock audience member, I guarantee you that if a band had played stuff like this at the kind of clubs I went to between 1979 and 1990 or so, they'd have been booed off the stage and branded counter-revolutionaries. (Or words to that effect.) And yet they are really, really good at what they do! The lead singer has that classic lead-singer charisma, everybody in the band seems perfect, and they put on an excellent show. (Evidently they weren't happy with the performance, but I sure was.)

Unlike a lot of other young bands that seem to be reviving (or reinventing) classic-rock for a new generation, I don't sense any irony or camp in The Frame Up. They do have a sense of humor, thank god, but I don't think they're laughing at the bombast and the clichés of old-school rawwwwk; instead of making fun of the nonsense, they seem to have just trimmed it out of their music.

As for the headliners, I'm still getting used to D&T's radical new direction. I loved their radical old direction, which was utterly unique. (How many other instrumental trios can you name that sample and loop tuba and trumpet lines on the fly?) They're still pretty much one-of-a-kind, but adding vocals and upping the aggressiveness makes them sound like a weird mix of early Zep, Rush, and Nine Inch Nails. (Again with the classic rock and macho metal! Is this just a phase every third generation or so has to go through?) I'll always love 'em, and I understand that birds gotta swim and fish gotta fly, but I miss their earlier, funnier days.

3. Rounding out the weekend was Babik at the Allen Street Hardware Café on Sunday night. The band was celebrating their first anniversary with a special show featuring all the guest musicians who have joined them at the Hardware during their yearlong Wednesday night residency, and after hearing so much great stuff about them for months now, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to catch them in action. Assuming you missed them, you might want to check out this podcast of one of their Wednesday shows.

If you're familiar with the music that Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli recorded together in the 1930s, you know exactly what to expect from Babik--although I honestly don't think the Quintet of the Hot Club of France ever took on "Inna Gadda Da Vida." Sadly, I arrived too late for their cover of "Free Bird," though I did catch an excellent amalgam of bossa, James Bond, surf rock, and Eastern drumming on one song.

These guys are really special. Keep an eye out for them.

And don't be surprised when, some day, some way, the outside world finally starts to catch on to the music being made in this oft-disparaged Rust Belt town.

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