Ain’t no oom-pah band
Drums and Tuba blows the roof off Duffy’s Tavern
Having been literally blown away by the last appearance of Drums and Tuba on the tiny Duffy’s Tavern stage a year or so ago, I was pleased to hear the band was stopping by on this year’s tour also. As a long-term fan of innovative electronic music, I can say that this band’s approach to performing provides a veritable Dagwood sandwich of musical pleasures to these increasingly jaded ears.
The Austin, Texas-founded trio (there’s a guitar player as well as the aforementioned drums and tuba) utilize leading-edge electronic sampling and sequencing technology to craft intricate and spacious sonic soundscapes. They also occasionally cook up some rollicking New Orleans funk guaranteed to make you groove like mad in your seat if the club’s too tiny and packed to accommodate actual on-your-feet dancing.
Thursday’s show was a well-paced affair started off gently by tuba and electronics meister Brian Wolff generating a digitally sampled slide guitar loop that was subtly melded with the live dual-guitar virtuosity of Neal McKeeby; that’s right, he occasionally plays two instruments at once. With the tuba filtered to sound like a smooth-as-butterscotch bass guitar perfectly complemented by the masterful drumming of Tony Nozero, the tune drifted into a lazy six-count finale that assured all in attendance that we were in the presence of a group whose interactions are nearly telepathic.
And the telepathic groove seemed to creep from the stage into the audience as the evening progressed. As McKeeby constructed a delicate latticework of interlocked static guitar parts by sampling and digitally echoing the voices of two guitars, he refined them all into a groove that linked perfectly with Nozero’s previously unsynchronized drum pattern and Wolff’s exploratory tuba bass line. I started to scribble down my obligatory King Crimson comparison when a friend seated next to me leaned over and whisper-shouted in my ear, “This is like King Crimson with a tuba.” The band then shifted gears into a ‘60s cool-jazz section featuring Wolff on a fine trumpet solo.
Another tune built from a synthesized tuba bass line augmented by gently ticking snare drum to a dizzying spiral of dual guitars that morphed into a weird waltz-time crescendo then smoothly segued into a spacey march punctuated by a series of power chords that would have made U2’s the Edge proud.
And that, not to mention a down & dirty R&B finale that featured wah-wah guitar à la Shaft as well as a Herb-Alpert-meets-Miles-Davis trumpet solo, was just the first set.
Having properly initiated the audience and thoroughly explored the parameters of the sound system, the band had plenty of breathing room in its second set to go as deeply in any musical direction as it cared to venture.
And venture it did, beginning with a seething funk riff punctuated by ripping, yet paradoxically ethereal, guitar riffs that at some point escalated into a raging mutation of the “Radar Love” riff that inspired someone to comment, “If the Bionic Man had a jam band …”
McKeeby’s guitar continued to be the focal point of the sound through a tremendously massive electric-rock number that set our eardrums jangling with amplifier feedback as an ocean of synth-generated wigglies gradually shimmered into a relaxing trance section that settled into an endlessly repeated horn sample.
The set ended with an apocalyptic demonstration of the band’s polyrhythmic, many-layered virtuosity that defies any feeble string of words to describe. Suffice to say that looking around the room I saw many smiles and no frowns.