Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Floating Action :: 10.22.09 :: North Star Bar :: Philadelphia, PA
Most Philadelphians had slipped into their couch lives early on Thursday, October 22. They were working off glory-fueled hangovers brought on by the past evening's ballgame celebrations. This sleepy mood cultivated a quintessential state-of-nothingness that allowed us to discover the nirvana inside Seth Kauffman's mind. Those lucky enough to make it out to the North Star Bar caught a live glimpse of Kauffman's band Floating Action as they touted their lo-fi, genre-defying approach to making music. If the legendary music magazine Bomp! was still in business, Floating Action certainly would have caught Greg Shaw's ear by now. He would have been fascinated with Kauffman's D.I.Y. approach.
Floating Action is one of those bands you just happen upon. Its growth seems stunted like a small tree in a forest of giants who have deprived it sunlight. But tell that to Kauffman and the three accompanying band members, who seemed to take little notice of the venue's meager numbers while they grabbed every little bit of the stage's dust-filled light beams and transformed them into a tender mix of mountain spun soul drenched in coastline surf rock. Kauffman reminds one of several musicians as hints of Beck and Brian Wilson surfaced. But I found him most similar to Tim Bluhm from The Mother Hips, not so much in appearance but in demeanor. He had the air of a '70s ski bum and the soul of Delta blues musician. Plus, the dirty pink Aspen hat, which sat squarely on his brow, and loose flannel shirt sure didn't help change this impression.
Floating Action is also the name of Kauffman's third album. During recording he performed almost every note by himself. His instruments, pedals and recording equipment are ancient, allowing no digital perfection to leak into his albums' warmth. Kauffman's recordings are chalk-full of styles ranging from bossa nova to funky '50s-laced dance numbers. Each song is another multi-colored leaf fluttering on Kauffman's body of work. Nestled inside his downtempo melodies is a time worn quality, a dignity that you would equate to the end of life rather than the glimmer at life's beginning. Kauffman's songs hum with a charm filled with color and personality carved from a lifetime of experiences. While they lack much fight or rebellious nature, they are content to meander along with an elder gentlemanly grace. Kauffman's music is poetry in the vein of Henry David Thoreau. He sends us on lackadaisical journeys winding through the back roads of his home in Black Mountain, NC. Kauffman is an artist whose song lets you appreciate the gentle beauty of the life that embraces you.
While Kauffman's recordings do more to keep us in the hammock than move us out on the dance floor, Floating Action managed to pack in a few live surprises. When Kauffman took the stage accompanied by the hard thumping bass of Michael Libramento, the intense guitar of Josh Carpenter, and The Specials 1977-era-like drumming of Evan Martin something different yet packed with the same chill vibe of the records was produced. The band added some teeth to mountain reggae-tinged songs like "50 Lashes" and "Absolute Sway." Libramento pumped life into the room. He hit us with deep, penetrating bass lines with each tug on the strings. His wide smile and supple pocket were more than sufficient to cradle Kauffman's gravel-raked hymns about troubled love. Martin's deft drumming coaxed the songs along keeping the laidback tales hopping to a crisp beat and a classic sense of timing. Just when you got all warm and snuggly, Carpenter would wake up and the songs took on a new depth as his guitar fought to gain its voice. Carpenter did more than just recreate the guitar work from the albums; he reworked the downtempo into several gutsy solo moments that pulsed with rock & roll. But these songs were clearly still the brainchild of Seth Kauffman and they swung to his whims as he made them something unique and irresistible.
| Seth Kauffman :: 10.22|
The live renditions of new song "Cinder Cone" and taste of the past "Get Your Love Stole" from his first album, Ting, struck from a different place entirely. "Cinder Cone" allowed the heavier side of Floating Action some room to breathe as Carpenter transformed the softer album version and charged forward on a wave of crunchy guitar work. We were treated to a bit of surf rock whose sound paid homage to the psychedelics of guitarist Jim Thomas and The Mermen riding on Dick Dale's surfboard. "Get Your Love Stole" danced with the devil and again dove in toward a similar surf rock vibe while showcasing more of Carpenters open-faced axe-work.
I'm sure several were bummed that Floating Action didn't play their stellar cover of The Cars' "Drive" or the eerily catchy reggae tune "Pills to Grind," nor did Kauffman dip into his dirty side with "Drug Hustler" or "Ron Ben Israel Blues." But, what I heard was enough to want to dig deeper into his short stack of releases and keep an eye on all of his Park The Van label mates.
Floating Action ended their performance with a wonderful re-working of "Digging," a song from second album Research that seemed to sum up all of the best moments from the performance and wrap them up into an epilogue filled with the haunting hymnal qualities.
If Kauffman is going the way of his ex-label mates Dr. Dog, then big things await in the future of this slightly askew, one-man garage band and his interrelated, multi-cultural rendezvous of sounds.
Floating Action tour dates available here.
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