The problem of motion
Most music needs to include within it the idea of motion. This is certainly true of pop and rock bands. The simplest form of this is a central concern with musical progression—not only in a large format (musical innovation within and outside of specific musical genres), but also within a single specific piece of music. A pop song, for example, changes from verse to chorus in part because of the listener’s need for change, for the listener to feel the song is going somewhere. Whether that somewhere is worth going to is up to the listener to decide.
Downboy is a primary example of that idea of motion. A four-piece band in the general vein of female-fronted hard-pop bands like the Kimberly Trip and Larisa Bryski, Downboy has all the ingredients one needs to make a successful and compelling live sound. Chris Green’s drumming is particularly impressive, as his clear understanding of groove mixes with technical complexity to form beats that make the audience sit up and take notice. Similar statements could be made about the rest of the band members, as well: Josh Curry (bass) and John Kasten (guitar) both are clearly competent musicians, and vocalist Natasha Kmeto’s full-throated vocals make it clear that her voice lessons were put to good use.
With such talent, it seems as if the band would present something truly interesting. Why, then, did Downboy’s performance at the Blue Lamp last weekend seem so lackluster? The individual elements were there: The performances were fine, the stage show was motivated and energetic, and the songs themselves sounded both well-rehearsed and flawlessly performed.
The problem, though, was one of movement, not of performance. Downboy set up a terrific groove, and, for the opening notes of each new song, there was a palpable sense of expectation from the audience. But almost immediately, the songs would begin to feel repetitious, the groove tedious, and the overall performance empty. This was particularly problematic in terms of the vocals, which relied heavily on the same timbre. Though Kmeto’s voice is superb, every note, every word and every phrase was delivered with the same full-throated, voice-trained sound, meaning that, for the audience, there was little or no variety in the actual performance.
Downboy has much going for it. The band’s use of 1980s pop influences (the Police seem a particularly important touchstone, especially in the rhythm section) helps give it a clean, tight sound, and its experimentation with varying time signatures is refreshing (one, if I counted right, ran in 11-eighths time). But Downboy is a prime example of great musicians coming together to produce a sound that is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
With a few alterations in terms of both performance and songwriting, the band could really thrive, perhaps even as a successful major-label pop band—it does have that spit-shined, radio-friendly quality. But first, it’ll need to address the question of the music itself: Where does it want it to go? If the band can answer that question, then it will be one step closer to taking its audience somewhere truly interesting. Downboy certainly has the collected talent to do it. (For more information, go to www.downboyband.com.)