Safari’s monster drum trip

A band’s approach to rhythm dictates its particular musical genre. The backbeat emphasis of reggae and the “swing” of jazz are two obvious examples, each locking in a particular rhythmic pulse that drives the listener’s ear. The instrumentation is clearly important, as well. After all, saxophone, drums and acoustic bass virtually cry out, “Jazz!” However, alternative instrumental combinations still are ultimately labeled as variations upon a theme: Electric guitars playing to a swing beat become known as “fusion jazz,” and fiddles and banjos playing against rock beats become known as “country rock.”

Last Thursday’s show at The Distillery underscored the importance of the drummer, mostly because each drummer (or lack thereof) was problematic for a variety of reasons. This was an evening filled with family bands, including the debut performance of Safari. Safari features the various members of the California Oranges, Holiday Flyer and the Sinking Ships (including John Conley, his partner Verna Brock and sister Katie Haley, together with twin brothers Matt and Ross Levine), all gathered under a single, 1980s Brit-pop-flavored umbrella. The songs here were terrific, even if the presentation was a bit shaky (all of Safari’s material is new). The one real sticking point was that Ross Levine’s drumming seemed too ponderous to fit the band’s jangly pop sound. It should be noted that this was never a problem in Levine’s drumming with California Oranges, which suggests that Levine hasn’t quite found his place within the context of the new material.

Second act Nice Monster (featuring husband-and-wife team J. Matthew and Heather Gerken) continues to impress, particularly with the addition of Josh Schramm on bass. But with the added bass—and the more electric sound of guitarist Jason Roberts—comes a lack of rhythmic clarity. Nice Monster still has no drummer, but the syncopated Simon and Garfunkel-meets-Hella acoustic songwriting demands a tight, math-rock drum sound. Any takers?

The Kimberly Trip (including husband-and-wife team Jeffry Prince and Kimberlina) was the final act on last week’s bill. The band has replaced bassist Simon Ennis (of St. Simon 3) with Sierra (of Razor Lily) and has augmented the guitars with rhythm guitarist Misha. The Kimberly Trip is one of those rare bands that are actually interested in entertaining the audience, and it accomplishes this goal wonderfully, both by performing its quirky 1980s-tinged hard-pop songs and with its stage banter. Prince performs guitar like a man possessed, even as the rest of the band quietly grooves along in their own space. One wishes the rest of the band would get a clue from Prince or that Prince would calm down a notch, because the overall effect is that of a one-man show. The significant drum issue here was not technique or performance—drummer Bractune is perfect for the band—but sheer volume. The drums sounded at least twice as loud as the rest of the instruments. A piece of advice I once overheard from Rob Bonner, bassist of progressive bluegrass pioneers South Loomis Quickstep: “You want them to tell you to turn up, not down.”