Ask us to break down the perfect Friday evening and it might look something like this: 70-degree weather times Stanley Clarke times the sum of The Coolin' System and The Half-Truths to the power of vodka equals a happy, happy Spin. Yep, this Friday was one for the record books in terms of the amount of awesome per second and a friendly reminder of why we keep hanging around.
For starters, The Schermerhorn — we've mentioned how much we love this place, right? Maybe it's because we spend so much time in dingy bars, or maybe it's because we still resent the illness we picked up at The Muse last time, but the clean, calm elegance of the Schermerhorn feels like we're hanging out in God's living room. And maybe it was just our luck, but they mix a damn strong vodka-tonic. These are the things that earn our love, frankly. Well, that and awesome jazz shows.
Yeah, it was tough to maintain our composure and not go into some sort of screaming nerd-gasm when jazz-fusion/film-scoring legend Stanley Clarke kicked off the show with "No Mystery" from Return to Forever's 1975 album of the same name. We weren't the only ones who were on the edge of freaking out — we could see the flutter of stifled air-drums throughout the audience as the occasional "WOOOOO!" cut through the polite reverence. And the audience was great — lots of serious looking jazz cats, scraggly looking prog-cats and obvious season-ticket holders who seemed a little wary of said prog-cats and their faint whiff of pot-smoke/Gentle Giant records. Good times.
Clarke brought a piano-violin-drums trio of twentysomething kids with him, and they did a pretty good job of keeping up with their leader. Wait, scratch that — those kids did a great job! Drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.'s frequent drum solos were halfway between blast beats and break beats, so pretty much exactly everything we look for in percussion. The pianist and the violinist (whose names we missed, sorry!) were top-notch too, but damn that kid can drum! And that's taking into count the weird phase thing that happens to drums in a room that was quite obviously not designed for big, booming drums.
One thing that didn't sound strange in the Schermerhorn was Clarke's double-bass solo — in fact, we'd say it came as close to sounding perfect as music can. Clarke spent an extended period of time, maybe 10 to 15 minutes, demonstrating every single cool noise that one can make on a stand-up bass — with or without actually touching the strings. It was a display of instrumental prowess that was not unlike watching a shogun master slicing and dicing an opponent. The ovation made it quite obvious that the audience had been slayed. When Clarke came out for the encore and strapped on his electric bass to play his definitive 1976 track "School Days," you could almost hear the splash of baby-batter on hundreds of pairs of Underoos. And then it was over.
It was only 9:30, which is usually when The Spin is just rolling out of bed, so we hopped a cab down to The Basement for the Coolin' System's record release party. We arrived just in time to catch Murfreesboro's DeRobert and The Half-Truths. Holy hell, guys, where ya been all our lives? (Murfreesboro, obviously.) Those of you reading along at home might recognize DeRobert as the vocalist for Sky Hi, but this new outfit is something else altogether. Hard, deep funk with flourishes that remind us of both classic Chicago and Philly soul sounds — think Syl Johnson throwing down with MFSB — built on a solid foundation of post-JB's bad-assery. Yes, dear readers, The Spin is in luv, L-U-V. You best believe it.
The proverbial cherry on top of this already excellent evening was, of course, The Coolin' System. The room was at the perfect capacity — packed full but with just enough room to shake your hips, and shake them we did. The System were on fire — the crowd was there to get funky and the band doubled down to make sure they left happy. They brought up all sorts of guests including Black Cat Sylvester and The Billy Goats' MC 24/7, and even played a super-tight, super-fun version of The Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" with DeRobert, Space Capone and System sidekick AJ Easton on vocals. AJ came back for a rousing version of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Express Yourself." And that's when our head exploded. Thank God it was Friday and we weren't going to have to do any thinkin' for a while.
Although the show flier promised an "all-new lineup," what we saw at Chris Crofton's birthday show Saturday night was a mostly old lineup — no pun intended, because they sound (and look!) young as hell. Crofton and bassist Dave Dawson were joined by new drummer Nick Davis. Due to an unfortunate concatenation of circumstances, we missed power-pop openers The Faves and got to The Basement just in time to join a large-ish crowd gathering for the start of the Alcohol Stuntband's set. (The crowd was composed of a large proportion of dudes with either facial hair, glasses or both. We don't know why this is — just a demographic observation.)
When the show began, it was so loud that we were driven to create impromptu earplugs out of napkins. And we were impressed with what we heard. Although Davis has only been with the band for six weeks, the rhythm section was rock-solid, allowing Crofton to play fuzzy chords and licks at his leisure. Davis' minimalist drumming style complements Dawson's brilliant counter-melodies. The night's set list showed the band is embracing its hard-rock side, with songs like "She's Insane," "Yeah," and "B4 U Go to Jail." "This song," Crofton said, "is about having the common fucking decency to make your girlfriend come before she goes to jail."
With the show well under way, Crofton enthused, "Now I can get drunk! I was really being careful before." They went on to play "Cocaine," which presents the monologue of a drug-abusing everyman: "I'm gonna plant tomatoes! I'm gonna get a library card! In the morning — I mean, it's gonna have to be tomorrow or something, it's like 7 in the fucking morning now — I'm gonna finish that screenplay I started! I'm gonna start using a condom!"
One of their older numbers, "Alcohol Stuntman," briefly took us to a more contemplative place, as Crofton informed the crowd that "everyone here is an enabler." The next song was "Teenage Suicide," which our notes describe as, "sounds all badass, kinda like Alice Cooper or something?" (Hey, at least we took notes.) Then came a song whose name we don't know, "about liking people's wives."
Along the way we were treated to some acerbic remarks on today's culture. On music: "Are you people tired of fucking seventh-graders impersonating the Beach Boys and calling it modern rock?" (Some wag: "I like fucking seventh-graders!") On the Red Door porch: "I hope that fucking thing falls down someday, and no one gets hurt."
After playing fan favorites like "Bell Witch" and "Dickerson Pike," ASB finished things off with the ultimate fan favorite, a (feedback-laden) rendition of "Traditional Blues Song." The audience thanked Crofton by singing him "Happy Birthday," horrifyingly out of tune. He thanked us in turn with the world's shortest set of "her pussy was loose" jokes. It had been a successful night. We headed to the porch to be enabled by our fellow alcohol stuntmen and -women.
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