!!! w/Lenny Williams
Damrosch Park Bandshell at Lincoln Center
Thursday, August 9
Better than: Reading the subtitles.
Audience members seated at Damrosch Park last night looked alarmingly composed at first gander, perhaps sedated by the soulful stylings of R&B singer Lenny Williams. It was a dubious introduction to the spectacle that followed: !!! frontman Nic Offer tramped out, come-at-me bro-style, in a pair of Some Girls cover-art-themed boxer shorts that exposed two bony white kneecaps. The battle cries that ensued served as a signal for rowdier audience members to make way to the stage, before which stood a dinky, if quaint, barricade.
!!! formed in 1996 in the dance-punk scene of California, though its individual members hail from Sacramento, New York, and Portland. The band’s (SEO-unfriendly) name was inspired by subtitles in the South African comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which clicking sounds of the Bushmens’ tribal language are represented by exclamation marks. Originally, any thrice-repeated monosyllable sufficed as pronunciation, but the band members found in the early days of performing punk gigs that a resounding “chk” was the only sound distinct enough to cut through the noise. And so, chk chk chk stuck, though those left out of the nomenclature loop simply emit a confused and cartoonish yelp when encountering their name.
Chk chk chk’s music is all buildup—mostly buildup—with a drop that is well worth the wait. But unlike dubstep, which operates under a similar structure, the sound has nothing to do with malfunctioning car parts and everything to do with catchy beats, funky percussive riffs and wicked guitar licks, all tempered by Offer’s chants. Truth be told, there were moments when the prolonged build had me checking my watch with impatience—or was it anticipation?—but Offer’s array of dance moves, some of which bordered on the ridiculous, tempered the wait. Arms flailing, hips gyrating, body contorting—within seconds, Offer’s lanky frame glistened under the stage lights as he shook his curly mop top. Giving hugs and high-fives all around, he climbed into the audience on multiple occasions and at one point made his way into the tamer, seated section of the audience, perching himself atop the outdoor chairs like a dance-crazed orator.
At one point, Lenny Williams took to the stage to perform a duet with Sonia Moore, a vocalist from Houston, Texas, who collaborated with !!! on their forthcoming album. Both Moore and Williams have a dynamic stage presence that rival Offer’s, though their appeal is decidedly more conventional. The band’s website has a personal statement from Offer—who was visibly overjoyed by the collaboration—on why they chose to collaborate with Williams:
“For this show, they asked us to pick someone who had been an influence, or a hero of ours. And that’s what he is. Lenny Williams is one of those special artists who I just became obsessed with. I turned the records over and over again for a summer or so. I still have the album Choosing You at the front of my stack, just because it’s one of those covers that looks so cool, you put it at the front. He looks cool and that’s what he sounded like on the phone when I finally talked to him. We talked about a doing a song or two for the show, and he still seemed like the guy on the cover. That guy on the cover of the record has got it under control, he’s been doing it for years, he’s seen the changes come and go, he’s weathered them and he’s still there to kill it if you need him to.”
Critical bias: They didn’t play my favorite song, and I didn’t get a sweaty hug.
Overheard: A trio of Italian tourists clearly making the best out of their stay in NYC.
Random notebook dump: And to think, just a couple weeks ago I was awkwardly fumbling through swing dance lessons in this very spot. I’ll take dance-punk over the Charleston any day.
[Update: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Lenny Williams performed with Shannon Funchess, from Austin, Texas. He performed with Sonia Moore, from Houston.]