Hard-Knock He-Men

At the apex of the Allmans' pyramidal onstage configuration is percussionist Marc Quinones, positioned above drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, with the other four band members arranged like linebackers at stage level. At their best, the Allmans coalesce into a firebreathing piece of heavy machinery with an intensity that smacks equally of brute metal force and lilting African beats. But only isolated moments of the rarely performed "Les Brers" jazz wank and the "Dreams" encore broached this zone. Even the blacklit mushroom iconography and nostalgic slide show seemed to work harder than usual to hit the perfect pleasure pitch of repetition with a difference. The similarity of subsequent set lists indicate that Allmans 3.0 are, for now at least, concentrating harder on getting it down than making it strange. — Richard Gehr


Uptempo Ruler

"Y'all want a piano feature?" Donald Harrison asked the Iridium crowd last Wednesday. Pregnant pause, then a reply: "Later, man. More horn right now." It was less of a cut against keyboardist Andrew Adair than a testament to the saxophonist's chops. Harrison had just opened with a nod to Bird, and after coolly "Koko"-ing the theme, he galloped away with the vim of a Preakness winner. Bar lines were leapt over, blues shouts bellowed, orthodoxies trifled with. Many players roll through a tune or two before firing on all cylinders, but the 38-year-old N'awlins native was cranked from the get-go. So, sure, let the pianist stroll a bit.

Actually that audience dude wasn't grasping the way the group fueled the boss's fire. On the surface, the foursome's mainstream demeanor has its conventions. But despite his neocon persona, Harrison's moves are a bit more rad. His "nouveau swing" concept is an acknowledgment of regionalism, incorporating Caribbean cadences and Crescent City backbeats. And if everyone's not a fire feeder— especially drummer John Lamkin and bassist Vincente Archer— it just don't work. So collectivism boils under the surface, making Adair's phunky phrases crucial to Harrison's bust-outs. On Wednesday the synergy was most obvious during their Meters cover. Riff tunes aren't supposed to be all that complex. But with Lamkin hustling like a union of Zigaboo and Elvin, "Cissy Strut" took on the anything-goes ardor of "Chasin' the Trane."

On his Banned in New York, Greg Osby demonstrates the thrills a club date can provide. Harrison's new Free To Be hints at such heights, but the gig was a dazzler of full Banned proportions. "We are of these times. We like Bob Marley," said the leader before snaking into "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise." Harrison knew it would be cheese to put a real skank on it. So nuance ruled, and a stream of tricky-assed riddims shored a sprawl of solo flights. Whether or not they're Jah men is up for debate. But they were jammin', and they hoped we like jammin', too. — Jim Macnie


Countdown

Having waited the better part of a decade to punch the clock for his 15 minutes of fame, Shawn Mullins seems awfully unsure about how he wants to count off those precious seconds. One minute, he's a bargain- basement Don Henley, the next, a member of the Indigo Girls' male auxiliary. At first blush, such addlement makes the thirtyish Southerner seem like a total write-off— but in those moments between mask fittings, it's possible to discern flashes of talent that, while hardly unique, might extend his shelf life just a tad.

Mullins differs from most queuers on the "two hits or less" line in that his moment in the sun— the teen-dissipation lament "Lullaby"— isn't actually among his better offerings. On the other hand, it's the only one catchy enough to quiet the chattering of the immediate-gratification seekers who filled Irving Plaza on Friday night. That's too bad, since the few interludes when Mullins banished his band— caricatures who could convert "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" into a Pontiac commercial— left the most lasting impression.

When not strumming coffeehouse stylee, the studiously grunged singer-songwriter mines the only vein of '70s pop culture that hasn't yet been exhausted— the sensitive, vaguely rocked-up sorta stuff that occupied the bottom of the bill on countless editions of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Visions of Poco and the Michael Stanley Band danced in many heads. His inexplicable devotion to Me Decade schlock aside, it's clear that Mullins has some good instincts: Covering James McMurtry's "Candyland" proves that he knows a powerful song when he hears one, while the as-yet-unrecorded dirge "Lonesome, I Know You Too Well" indicates that he's capable of tossing one off himself. Still, for a guy who sings so much about how wild and untamed a spirit he is, Mullins really ought to do something— breakdance, stick one of those trick arrows through his head, or simply pink-slip the hacks— to back it up. The clock is ticking. — David Sprague

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