Last night's stop was the Lion's Den in the heart of Greenwich Village for a thumping two hour set of Dr Didg. At Berkfest last summer I had ambled innocently by the lower stage that this band was playing at, and stopped briefly to check it out. Within minutes I was completely sucked in by the grooves coming from the stage and walking turned into dancing, minutes turned into a full hour and "checking out" turned into serious digging. Amazingly, I had not gotten around to checking them out again until Thursday night.
We got into the Lion's Den midway through the first number, sidled up close to the stage and immediately had a deja vu experience - sucked in beyond my control, juicy grooves drowning me immediately. Straight up, Dr Didg had me dancing HARD for 2 full hours leaving me sweaty and ecstatic.
As the name implies, the band features a doctor (PhD - physics, there may be hope for me yet!) who plays didgeridoo. That name, though, sells what they are doing on stage well short of reality. The didg is just a foundation that happens to be a unique one for this brand of funky dance music. The instrument is used by Dr. Didg to set up delay loops, sometimes several overlayed on top of each other, and sometimes coming from a variety of differently toned tubes. This texture of sound serves as a template for the rest of the band to fill in and follow.
When I told people I was going to see Dr. Didg, some asked - "Does he have a band too?" You bet yer ass he has a band. As solid a funking troupe as I've heard. Leading the charge was Todd Wright on guitar. Shirtless and fearless, he sizzled with terrifying licks that oftentimes recalled Jimmy Herring in their speed and dexterity. On drums, Scott Eisenberg fuelled the looping didg beats with funky rhythms and powerful fills. Not sure of the bass player's name but he was solid rounding out the backing section -
as solid as you could ask for.
Beyond just his work on the didgeridoo, Dr. Didg (a.k.a Graham Wiggins, PhD) flourished through some nasty funk on the keyboards. Continuing on the fringe musical sounds, he added work on a synthesized hooter and electronic horns which were actually just midi sounds from his keyboards elicited when he blew into a mouthpiece. He often would loop some of these sounds to add to the throbbing mix.
This music is purely for dancing. A wild, primal, electronic groove that allows you to forget about who is adding which notes to the stew and just gobble it all up en masse. Some people concern themselves with the inner workings of the automobile - the engine, the brakes, the transmission, the tires; others just get in the car, turn the ignition and go. Dr Didg is a get-in-the-car-and-go kind of show.
Entirely instrumental, the set started with shorter, concise compositions of 5 or 6 minutes. As the night went on, though, the jams began to extend until each piece seemed to overlap. Hypnotized, I would get the feeling that hours had passed between pauses in the delicious grooving. The band was wonderfully tight from top to bottom, never faltering, rarely slowing down. Like a DJ spinning records, layering each slice of the music on top of each other and subtly shifting between sections, Dr Didg flowed back
and forth over thoughtful grooves that left you no choice but to dance hard.
Each musician stitched his patch into the quilt creating some seriously hypnotic grooves. With the Aboriginal subtext driving the music only subtly, there was a tribal element that called out the audiences basest needs. The crowd size was perfect, leaving plenty of room for each person to get down however they chose. Dr Didg provides a damn good time and left me scratching my head once again how each musical experience seems to outdo the previous... where does it end?
Apparently it doesn't end at 55 Bar. It'd been a while since I visited
Wayne Krantz - too long. Finally having some Krantz frequent flier miles behind me, each gig I catch seems to augment the feeling of knowing that this regular show on Thursday's may be the best recurring thing going anywhere. I always leave 55 Bar thinking: "world's most perfect music?" Last night was no exception.
"Wayne Krantz" may be the name of the phenom playing guitar at front of the trio, but as I had my brain unfolded during the midnight set, I realized it is also a separate musical entity - a genre that defies classification and pigeonholing. Certainly the elements of jazz, rock and funk are there, but they have been pureed so finely that it is difficult to say exactly how they got there. Consider the fact that all the matter in the universe in some form was present at the big bang. The gases of particles swirled into stars which swirled into planets and so on until all the things around us came into existence over eons. Which means that the electrons and neutrons and protons in the atoms at the end of the little hairs in my ear that quiver with each nanosecond of exposure to Krantz's music once resided in what is now the darkest corner of the
universe. Existed right next to the matter in the tips of Wayne's guitar pick or the gaseous elements in the air of 55 Bar through which compression waves of sound from the P.A. brought the music. Such is the way with Wayne Krantz's music - the elements are common at their basest form, but they now exist galaxies away in the vast musical universe.
Like "Dr Didg" - a name that betrays the full-fledged vehicle, "Wayne Krantz" is also a band. Wayne provides the indescribable concoction of style and talent on the guitar - filtering blistering licks from the boundaries of decent Western music through electronic amplification and manipulation. Tim Lefebrve on bass creates a noise that is thick enough to sit on. The lines just bubble from his amp and inflate to the exact size of the tiny room. Badass is one way to describe his playing - nasty, nasty funk with the most evil effects that you can imagine. His bass work eats the traditional rock/funk bass for breakfast and even the post-meal belch is music to the ear. Keith Carlock on drums is a perpetual motion machine. Precision and power penetrate the dense mix and create fascinating protrusions - jagged edges of rhythm. Rarely has the sounds of wooden drumstick hitting drum skin or metal cymbal sounded so true. Controlled insanity, his wild flailing produces perfectly placed beats that undulate with the music perfectly.
When you see the band you are sure that these are the three most talented people you've ever seen. While certainly having the chops, I think this hyperbole is a result of these guys just working so well together. The notion of "soulmates" comes to mind - each of these guys completes each other in a love triangle of sonic emotion. Never have I been so sure that any band was meant to play with each other.
On one hand, my description of the music probably makes it sound completely inaccessible. The amazing thing about the band is that as esoteric and heavy as it seems upon first listen, it is actually 100% listenable. Wayne's music is a brilliant lecturer who makes sure his students understand and enjoy the dense nature of his material.
Wayne Krantz is the jam/funk revolution backwards. Many bands, like Dr Didg, are successfully supplying the scene with music that tempts your feet first with straightforward bass lines and drums beats over which keys or guitar solos and interacts. Krantz's music betrays the notion of soloing, of simplicity, of rhythm section, of cheap thrills. Going straight for the brain and stopping there and setting up camp, the music challenges and excites.
55 Bar is basically just a bar with tables alongside a bar and the band just on the floor at the end. In essence everyone is "on stage" and as the room crowds people can stand actually behind the band - backstage. This is where I like to take it in - standing by Lefebvre looking out from bass, drums, and then guitar - in reverse. From that perspective I am able to truly appreciate how each musician seems to lead the others. If you immerse yourself in it you can convince yourself that the bass is leading the music and that the guitar is providing the rhythm. I am quite certain if it were possible to stand behind Carlock a similar feeling would result.
Summer is here, reruns are the soup de jour on network television - Wayne Krantz is the "must see" for Thursdays now. This is music that would have no chance of getting voted off the island.
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" - FZ
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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